SAVING THE DARK Ugh. Gross.

“The tendency nowadays to wander in wilderness is delightful to see,” wrote John Muir. “Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity; and that mountain parks and reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers, but as fountains of life. Awakening from the stupefying effects of the vice of over-industry and the deadly apathy of luxury, they are trying as best they can to mix and enrich their own little ongoings with those of nature, and to get rid of rust and disease.”

The Atlantic published that in 1898—over a century before the Trump administration began decimating national monuments, and over a century before Portland’s swollen population began to infest the region’s hiking trails and riverbanks every weekend. His words are worth remembering whenever one sees SUVs crowding a trailhead in the Gorge: People getting into nature is a good thing, not only for them, but also to ensure the popular support needed to preserve wild spaces.

Later in The Wild Parks and Forest Reservations of the West, Muir writes of “the sea and the sky, the floods of light from the stars, and the warm, unspoilable heart of the earth”—all of which are covered in 2018’s Portland EcoFilm Festival, which runs at the Hollywood Theatre from Thursday, September 27 to Sunday, September 30.


At its most entertaining, Saving the Dark introduces smart, star-obsessed weirdos (some of whom have very strong feelings about street lights), but at its best, it hints at what light pollution has cost us—a nightly reminder of our miniscule place in the universe.


About those stars: While Saving the Dark (screening Fri Sept 28, with the filmmaker, the Rose City Astronomers, and Portland Audubon in attendance) travels from the Chabot Space & Science Center in Oakland to the Las Vegas strip to examine the astonishing effects of humanity’s recent obsession with artificial light, its real draw is its time-lapse footage of stars wheeling over the shadowed landscapes of a night-blackened Earth. At its most entertaining, Saving the Dark introduces smart, star-obsessed weirdos (some of whom have very strong feelings about street lights), but at its best, it hints at what light pollution has cost us—a nightly reminder of our miniscule place in the universe. “Eighty percent of North American and European populations,” says astronomer Tyler Nordgren, “no longer live someplace where they can even faintly see the Milky Way.”

EcoFilm’s nine other feature documentaries are light-years closer to home, including The Kingdom: How Fungi Made Our World (Sat Sept 29, filmmaker in attendance), which champions Earth’s “most underappreciated and unexplained organisms,” and also my fridge; The Beaver Believers (Thurs Sept 27, filmmaker in attendance), about those working to restore beaver habitat; and This Mountain Life (Sun Sept 30), which follows people who have changed their lives to be closer to the mountains of British Columbia.

Each feature is preceded by shorts, and depending on your interests, your mileage will vary with each program (especially, I guess, if your interests include fungus). One selection most can skip, though, is Dirt Rich (Fri Sept 28, director in attendance), an overlong meander that first looks at how charcoal reinvigorates farming soil but then stumbles off in other directions, ultimately concluding that, really, when you think about it, war is the planet’s real problem.

But there’s one must-see: Werner Herzog’s 2010 lyrical, melancholy Cave of Forgotten Dreams (Sat Sept 29), in which the filmmaker explores France’s Chauvet Cave and its 30,000-year-old cave paintings. Herzog delves not only into the cave, but into humankind’s relationship with the earth—a relationship so tangible that even our smallest actions echo for tens of thousands of years.