From our own Great Marsh to the Outer Banks of North Carolina and all the way to Mexico, Africa and the Arctic, the nine documentaries featured in a festival this weekend cover a lot of ground.

The American Conservation Film Festival — NORTH! starts tomorrow and runs through Sunday at the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge visitors center in Newburyport.

The event is inspired by what Matt Poole, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s visitor services manager at the refuge, describes as its grandparent festival in West Virginia.

Started 15 years ago by a group of volunteers committed to environmental issues, the American Conservation Film Festival is held each fall at the Fish & Wildlife Service’s National Conservation Training Center and Shepherd University in Shepherdstown, a thriving arts community not unlike Newburyport.

“The idea behind the festival at Parker River is a simple one — tap into the good mojo of the ‘granddaddy’ festival ... as a way of doing something conservation-related, indoors, during the cold winter months,” Poole said.

Poole, who used to work as an instructor and course leader at the training center, has selected a number of films that were also screened at the national festival. He also picked films that he has seen and enjoyed, as well as ones he found through online research.

“It’s a list that came from a number of directions,” he said.

The festival kicks off tomorrow evening with “Flight of the Butterflies,” which takes viewers along as hundreds of millions of monarchs migrate from Canada, across the U.S. and into their remote sanctuaries in the mountain peaks of Mexico.

That film will be followed by the local premiere of “From Billions to None: The Passenger Pigeon’s Flight to Extinction,” chronicling the end of a species in 1914.

“It is a bird that was the most numerous bird ever on this planet, and we wiped it out — human beings — in a very short period of time,” Poole said.

Saturday contains a full slate of films, running from 9:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. and starting with “Voices of the Great Marsh.” Created by a local group, Eight Towns and the Bay, in 2001, the 15-minute film looks at the value of the Great Marsh as a resource and the importance of protecting it.

Making its New England debut on Saturday evening is a new documentary with a local connection of which many might be unaware, Poole said.

“The Power of One Voice: A 50-Year Perspective on the Life of Rachel Carson” is an in-depth examination of the life and work of the well-known biologist and writer. Carson was the author of “Silent Spring,” a 1962 book documenting the effects of pesticides on the environment.

“Rachel Carson is widely acknowledged globally as the mother of the modern environmental movement in the U.S.,” Poole said. “I think for people who are not overly familiar, it’s really hard to overstate her superstar status.”  

Carson worked for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service as a scientist and editor from the late 1930s until 1952. She visited Parker River and Plum Island during her tenure and wrote an interpretive guide about the refuge in 1947.

“That’s pretty special,” Poole said. “That’s a document that we still have on our website today.”

Copies of the guide will be distributed at the screening, which will be introduced by executive producer Patricia DeMarco. A longtime Carson scholar, DeMarco is the former executive director of the Rachel Carson Homestead Association in Springdale, Pennsylvania, and the former director of the Rachel Carson Institute at Chatham University in Pittsburgh.

The Carson premiere will also be preceded by a short slideshow featuring images of Parker River — taken by members of the refuge’s photography club — set to music “with Carson quotes interspersed throughout,” Poole said. “It’s kind of an introductory piece to get people in the mood.”

Perhaps the most recognizable film in the Saturday lineup is “Chasing Ice,” which won an Emmy Award last year. It follows environmental photographer James Balog and his Extreme Ice Survey, which used time-lapse cameras to chronicle changing glaciers in the Arctic.

“It chronicles in very dramatic fashion the precise melting of glaciers,” Poole said. “It kind of doesn’t leave any question that, in fact, things are happening out there in terms of climate change and sea level rise.”

Other films on Saturday follow a pair of snowy owls in Alaska, explore the Outer Banks’ “Ribbon of Sand” and the Alaska Peninsula, and tell the story of the relationship between the African fig tree and the miniscule fig wasp.

The festival wraps up Sunday with encores of “Magic of the Snowy Owl” and “Chasing Ice.”

Based on the success of this weekend, Poole hopes to turn the festival into an annual, expanded event. Ideas for the future include the addition of other screening venues and a slate of films for children.

“We do a variety of special events throughout the year, and this is just a new one,” Poole said.

If you go

What: American Conservation Film Festival — NORTH!

When: Friday from 7 to 9 p.m., Saturday from 9:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. and Sunday from 2 to 4 p.m.

Where: Parker River National Wildlife Refuge visitors center, 6 Plum Island Turnpike, Newburyport

How much: Free. Admission to the 75-seat auditorium is first-come, first-serve.

More information: 978-465-5753 or

Festival schedule 


7 p.m.: “Flight of the Butterflies”

8 p.m.: “From Billions to None: The Passenger Pigeon’s Flight to Extinction”


9:30 a.m.: “Voices of the Great Marsh”

9:45 a.m.: “Ribbon of Sand”

10:30 a.m.: “Magic of the Snowy Owl”

11:45 a.m.: “Flight of the Butterflies”

12:30 p.m.: Lunch break

1:30 p.m.: “Chasing Ice”

3 p.m.: “The Ends of the Earth: Alaska’s Wild Peninsula”

4:15 p.m.: “The Queen of Trees”

5:15 p.m.: Dinner break

7 p.m.: “The Power of One Voice: A 50-Year Perspective on the Life of Rachel Carson”


2 p.m.: “Magic of the Snowy Owl”

3:15 p.m.: “Chasing Ice”

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