A Film Competition to Save the Puyallup River Watershed

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Jim GawelWith the help of Associate Professor of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences Dr. Jim Gawel, The Russell Family Foundation and the Puyallup River Outreach Project, UW Tacoma hosted the 2nd annual Puyallup River Film Festival on December 9, 2014.
The event was held in Carwein Auditorium where 17 short films by filmmakers from UW Tacoma, Lesley University, Jason Lee Middle School, Washington State University and the Washington Stormwater Center were shown and voted on by the audience. 
Dr. Gawel recently answered a few questions about the Puyallup River Film Festival’s second year, what stood out and what the future holds for the festival. 

What can you tell me about the films that were entered in this year’s competition?

The categories were determined by who submitted, so this year we had middle school students, college students and nonprofits.
This year we had people get creative with stop motion stuff. There was one with some Claymation and another one that was actually a whiteboard movie – a stop-motion whiteboard drawing that was awesome. And that was one of the middle school entries.
UW Tacoma hosted the 2nd annual Puyallup River Film Festival on December 9, 2014. | Images from the film Water Undone.We also didn’t have an overall winner, so there was a winner for each category.
Who are the filmmakers, and what kind of budget are they working with?
Oh, there’s no budget. 
The students [from middle school and the universities] have really gotten into it over the last two years. There have been some entries from the nonprofits, as well. We haven’t quite hit the filmmakers – or the professionals, if that’s what you want to call them – and I’m not sure why. We’d love to get the group that does the 72-hour film festival, which is a pretty eclectic group. But for some reason we haven’t been able to get them involved. 
We are hoping to attract more professional filmmakers next time. Maybe we can eventually offer a scholarship for them. I know for the Banff film festival, the Best New Filmmaker gets a scholarship to sound school, so they do a weeklong workshop where they get to go and learn how to do sound for a movie. That would be really cool – I don’t quite think we can send them to Banff for a week, but it would be nice to do something along those lines, something that advances them, and I think you’ll get more interest from the filmmakers that way. 
Who handles the voting? Is it done by a panel of judges?
We’re not going for an expert panel. The film festival is all about voting by the audience. 
Did the Puyallup River Film Festival get started with your documentary Water Undone
Water Undone was actually the second documentary I was involved with. The thing about environmental documentaries is they tend to be very place-specific. The idea behind Water Undone was to come up with a way to show the public what the modern water resource issues are, as opposed to kind of classic ones where things catch fire or turn red. 
So (UW Tacoma Multimedia Production Supervisor) Paul Lovelady and I made a documentary that focused on modern water concerns. We initially were going to make it broader, but, as a learning tool, it really makes a difference if you’re showing all the aspects of one specific region, which is what we did with the watershed.
In what way did Water Undone influence the film festival? 
One of the problems with a full documentary is that it’s long, so a lot of people don’t watch it. It’s hard to get it in the classroom at that point, too, unless you break it up. And some of the things that are in the film are out of date by the time you finish editing. So what we decided was the way to keep interest in the messages of Water Undone, while continuing to push the concerns of the watershed at the same time, was to have people create short videos. 
We wanted the entries in the festival to be short enough that people could YouTube them and pull them up on their phone. Doing it that way also opens these short films up to get everyone’s take on the watershed issues. 
What are the primary goals of Puyallup River Outreach Project (P.R.O.P.)?
We are not a non-profit; we are the clearinghouse for all of the information on the watershed that is out there. The goal of the watershed is actually an outreach project to try and get people involved in the watershed, to make them more knowledgeable about the watershed and have some purpose for it. 
With the film festival, we wanted video clips on different aspects of the watershed. It’s a little bit more interactive content. The great thing about students is that they produce these videos and then parents, friends and relatives are told to go check it out on the website. And by doing that, they have a chance to see what else is going on. 
UW Tacoma hosted the film festival thanks to a grant from the Russell family. Who are they and how are they involved?
The Russell family is a philanthropically-minded family that was involved with Russell Investments, which was founded and headquartered for many years in Tacoma. They have a granting arm that has morphed over the years into focusing on environmental issues and especially environmental issues that are regional in nature. 
They originally funded Water Undone, and they gave us money for the original website. The Russell Family Foundation has a very strong focus on the Puyallup River Watershed. This dovetails into their new initiative, which deals with communities of interests that are funded through this initiative. We just got the first year of funding to come in to grow projects like the film festival, to grow outreach and education – both formal and informal – about watershed issues. 
So we can try to push the film festival next year through all these different activities and committees. 
Will there be a third year?
I haven’t planned it, but it will happen, especially if we can embed it into what we’re doing now. It would be nice to see it not stay the size that it is; I’d like to see it grow. It needs to be around enough years that it gets a base of people who know about it and we’re slowly getting to that place. 
This year there were a few more people in the audience and a few more films in the competition. It just hasn’t gotten to the bigger stature that I thought it would. I think one of the things that we’re going to find is that to get school groups involved, we’re going to have to do specific outreach to the schools. 
We’re also thinking about the timing of it. The beginning of December is kind of a tough time, with the holidays going on. Maybe we will aim for Earth Week, which would give participants more time to prepare and it would have the added hook of Earth Week. 
Overall, it has been fun, but it has also been one of those things we’re trying to figure out as we go. We are exploring how to get more participation, because everyone who does it really enjoys it. It is a matter of finding ways for it to become more accessible for the schoolteachers, and to take some of the fear of the technical aspects out of it, so that we can help them a little bit more. 

Below is the list of the films entered in the competition in their respective categories:

Middle School Student Category
Reducing Plastics
Fatima Rangel and Dollar Ganu
Jason Lee Middle School
Other Entries:
Breaking the Surface
Elena Seaholm, Malique Quarles and Sanne Cove
Jason Lee Middle School
Classroom in the Wild (aka Team Blake)
Blake Kaveny 
Jason Lee Middle School
Flood Dangers
Chaz Sipes and Griffin Soper
Jason Lee Middle School
Microplastic Mania
Auriel Zantua, Saoirse Bogart, Izabella Gonzalez Saunders
Jason Lee Middle School
What is a Watershed?
Victoria Terrill, Savannah Duke, Emma Jacobsen and Kera Dickson
Jason Lee Middle School
What’s Running with the Runoff?
Devlin Del Giudice, Nate Sachs, Naja Whitehead, Olvier McBride-Youngers and Daelin Cavanaugh
Jason Lee Middle School
College Student Category
The Aliens visit the Lake
Rachel Struck
University of Washington Tacoma
Other Entries:
Buckley Dam
Bryttany Hemingway, Sherri Cumbo and Russ Mulligan
University of Washington Tacoma
Commencement Bay – And End All for the Puyallup River
Alex Pellegrini and Taylor Jones
University of Washington Tacoma
The Electron Project
Ashley Antonich and Tatyana Rybalka
University of Washington Tacoma
Four Days in the Woods
Kathy Hall and Lance Cadena
Lesley University
Human Impacts on the Geography of the Puyallup River
Andrea Biddle and Sophia Phaisanti
University of Washington Tacoma
Kristen Benson, Robert Entenman and Robert Pangaro
University of Washington Tacoma
Nonprofit Organization Category
Storm Trek 
Lisa Rozmyn, John Serembe and Paul Lovelady
Washington Stormwater Center – WSU Puyallup and UW Tacoma
Other Entry:
Riparian Restoration – DeCoursey Park Pond
Laurie Larson and Jill Wetzel
Washington State University, Puyallup
You can view each of the videos in its entirety here
Written by: 
Kevin Yeoman / January 9, 2015
Media contact: 

John Burkhardt, Communications, 253-692-4536 or johnbjr@uw.edu