Greta Thunberg’s voice plays over sweeping shots of an arid desert. An animated psychotherapist frets over climate change during a vacation to Hawaii. Mongolian rangers speed through a protected valley on horseback to track down wildlife poachers.

Audience members witnessed these sights and sounds Friday night during the Evanston Environmental Association’s (EEA) “Wild and Scenic Film Festival” at the Rotary International building in downtown Evanston.

The EEA, a non-profit dedicated to supporting the Evanston Ecology Center and raising environmental awareness, has held the event annually since 2011.  Proceeds from the festival’s ticket sales fund scholarships for low-income middle school students to attend the ecology center’s summer camp, according to EEA board member Katarina Topalov.

Festival goers, many of them clad in Patagonia, filed into the Rotary International building’s screening room to watch 12 mostly non-fiction short films in 111 minutes. Several films focused on the experiences of various identity-based groups spending time outside. From a group of former gang members who went whitewater rafting in California, to a collective of trans men who entered a competitive trail race in Texas, these narratives captured their subjects’ attempts to find a sense of belonging in nature that eluded them in everyday life.

For Beth Drucker, a co-founder of Go Green Wilmette, the films were a refreshing alternative to the grim environmental documentaries shown in previous years.

“The best way to stay positive is to be engaged in action,” Drucker said.

While many of the films carried a hopeful streak, there were plenty of sad moments too. Rockies Repeat centered on a team of artists who painted portraits of the Canadian Rockies to showcase glacier recession over time. Near the film’s end, one artist on-screen tearfully observed that, “The wind from the glacier felt like a dying breath from a beast.”

Another emotional film, Rangers of the Ulaan Taiga, profiled a team of Mongolian park rangers who risk their lives and isolate themselves from society to safeguard the country’s national parks. Framed by a snowy mountain backdrop, one of the rangers looked directly into the camera and said, “Our life is short but mountains are eternal,” before starting to cry.

Other highlights from the night included I am Salmon, a poem read from the perspective of a fish overlaid with footage of wild salmon, and The Prospector, a documentary about a National Gold Panning Champion who lives in a school bus with his donkey, Nugget.

Those who missed Friday’s festival will get another chance to watch the films later this year. In August, the EEA will host an outdoor screening in a park, open to the public free of charge.

Thumbnail photo courtesy of Unmistakable Lawrence