The name Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival is a bit deceiving. While hosted in Jackson Hole, it’s a global event.
The festival brings filmmakers and others tied to the industry and wildlife- non-government organizations, researchers and government agency representatives- from around the world to Jackson Hole. And the festival has grown to include partnerships with organizations like the United Nations.
“It very quickly has grown to become the premier event of that genre in the world,” said Lisa Samford, executive director of the festival. “It is without question the largest, strongest, most germane and interesting conference for that stakeholder group.”
It also has become a community event, allowing people in Jackson Hole exposure to the newest and most important wildlife films, as well as a chance to hear renowned speakers like Jane Goodall, E.O. Wilson and Sir David Attenborough speak.
Wolfgang Bayer, a Jackson-based filmmaker, started the festival in 1991 after attending a similar conference in England. The nature-film industry event inspired him to launch a complementary festival in Jackson Hole.
For years the festival was a private, industry event- press weren’t even invited. Samford struggled with the fact people like Goodall and other rock stars in wildlife conservation were in town and there were amazing films screening, but residents couldn’t participate.
About 15 years ago the festival started a community event showcasing the winners, and this year launched the Jackson Hole WILD Festival, featuring films and some of the filmmakers and festival guests at community events. There is now more than a week of major programming at the festival that is open to the public and most of those nights tickets sell out.
A “Best of Jackson Hole” Festival Tour travels the world showcasing the top films. The festival is also working with the United Nations- for the second time- to launch an international elephant film festival, a result of the 2015 conservation summit where 150 stakeholders gathered to talk about ways to save the species.
The festival also expanded to create a science symposium which brings together scientists to help them become storytellers and engage the public.
“Our motivation on all of this is to galvanize the power of the media in terms of helping to define and create culture,” Samford said. “How do we bring together the stakeholders in media who are really defining the genre, alongside those who are doing on-the-ground work in conservation and science? We live in incredible, interesting and dynamic times and we’re at critical junctures in so many areas in the world. It’s never been more important to engage people with the natural world, with each other, with culture and history.”
That engagement and its impacts stretch far beyond the mountain boundaries of Jackson Hole. The organization might have Jackson Hole in its title, but its vision and scope is global.