Big stories in small packages: International Wildlife Film Festival shorts to check out


Apr 17, 2020

Short films are like the poetry of the filmmaking world, or at least that’s how Carrie Richer describes them.

“I’m such a sucker for a short film. It’s definitely my favorite kind to watch,” said the artistic director of the International Wildlife Film Festival, running April 18-25. The now-virtual event has put an emphasis on short films this year, giving them more visibility with two categories of their own.

From a love story between two insect nerds, to a tale of migrating birds and the communities they pass through, to an explanation of the science behind a small but mighty rodent, this year’s short films tell meaningful stories about wildlife and the people who study it in less than 40 minutes.

‘The Love Bugs’

“The Love Bugs” tells the story of two married entomologists who have spent 60 years together collecting and identifying insects. The film follows Charlie and Lois O’Brien in their twilight years as they prepare their private collection, the world’s largest, to give away.

“They’re prepping their entire collection to give to this major institution and we learn about the insects and we learn about proper names and we learn about all their care,” Richer said.

The tiny bugs are fascinating to see up close, many boasting intricate and dazzling patterns unnoticeable to the naked eye. Each one brings back a memory for the couple, reminding them of their lifetime of travels together in the field.

The film is as heartwarming as it is educational and the O’Briens’ adorable affection for bugs is only matched by their love for each other. The term that comes to mind for Richer?
“Relationship goals,” she said. “It’s such a sweet epitome of love that I think it’s a really nice thing to celebrate right now.”

“The Love Bugs” is a finalist in the Short category and is available to stream with the purchase of a virtual pass. A special featured screening with additional programming for passholders is set for April 19.

‘Voices of the Pacific Flyway’

In a film that is moving in both its visuals and message, “Voices of the Pacific Flyway” follows the millions of migratory shorebirds that traverse the Pacific Coast of North America each year.

The film highlights the connection between the birds and the communities that have become their stopover points along what is known as the Pacific Flyway and explores how these communities form a relationship with the birds, anticipating and celebrating their return each year.
“They go into the migrations of a lot of shorebirds and how different people intersect culturally with wildlife,” Richer said. “It does a great job of incorporating Native voices and the Indigenous population and the way people can really have a symbiotic relationship with wildlife.”
In La Chorea in Baja, California, they welcome the birds back with a community-wide festival to celebrate their return.

The film is elegant and peaceful, showing how harmonious life can be when humans and nature live together successfully.

“It displays sort of an ideal relationship to the wild that I think we should all sort of be reevaluating,” Richer said.

“Voices of the Pacific Flyway” is a finalist in the Living With Wildlife category and is available to stream for free during the week of the festival.

‘The Science of an Extreme Animal Athlete’

From the highest peaks of the Rocky Mountains to the desert lowlands of the Southwest, deer mice have one of the broadest distributions in North America. In other words, they’re everywhere.

“The Science of an Extreme Animal Athlete” follows three researchers as they study the rodents and try to understand how they’ve adapted to different environments. The scientists, including University of Montana wildlife biology professor Zac Cheviron, are interested in highland versus lowland mice and the differences in how they fuel their activity.
The idea is to discover how the highland mice have evolved to live in such harsh environments, even through winter, Cheviron said. The film also weaves in a human connection, as two of the scientists are endurance athletes themselves.

“Scientists have human interests that have nothing to do with science, but that can influence the kinds of questions we ask,” Cheviron said. The film focuses on the deer mouse research, but sprinkles in footage of Cheviron and his colleague running through the mountains during their off time in the field.

“Part of what we wanted to show was the intersection between personal interest and scientific interest,” he said, adding studies like the one on deer mice featured in the film can lead to applications for human health.

The main takeaway though, is the importance of basic research, he said, or studies that aim to understand how the world works, rather than solving a problem or finding a cure.

“The Science of an Extreme Animal Athlete” is available to stream for free during the week of the festival.

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