In the film “Ningal Aranaye Kando” (“Have You Seen the Arana?”), directed by Sunanda Bhat, a traditional healer worries about the disappearance of medicinal plants from the forest. The film also shows a farmer’s commitment to growing traditional varieties of rice organically, and a cash crop cultivator’s struggle to survive amidst farmers’ suicides. [Courtesy image]

Filmmaker Jennifer Ekstrom said she’s “thrilled” that her film “Last Rush for the Wild West: Tar Sands, Oil Shale and the American Frontier” will have its world premiere in Moab. The documentary exploring a Canadian company’s plans for tar sands and oil shale strip-mining at PR Springs in eastern Utah, will kick off the Moab International Film Festival on Friday Sept. 19 at 7:30 p.m. at Star Hall.

“It’s so relevant with Moab downstream – although it will impact all of America,” Ekstrom said. “Tar Sands development would exacerbate the problems of water shortages and climate change and is the reason for making the film. Nearly a million acres in Utah, Wyoming and Colorado could be leased, all in the headwaters of the Colorado River.”

The film features Living Rivers conservation director John Weisheit and Rob Herbert, the former Utah Department of Environmental Quality’s groundwater protection manager. Both the Utah Division of Oil, Gas and Mining, and U.S. Oil Sands declined to be interviewed for the film. Ekstrom will answer questions after the film.

Following the screening of “Last Rush for the Wild West” is “The Act of Killing” at 9:15 p.m. This film tells the story of war criminals in Indonesia who have gone unpunished for the killings of thousands of people, and the society they have since built. Interestingly, the actual real-life characters took part in the documentary-making, film festival co-founder Nathan Wynn said.

“There’s a real surprise at the end,” Wynn said.

“The Act of Killing” was nominated for best documentary feature at the 86th Academy Awards, and has been touted by executive producer Werner Herzog as the “most powerful film you’ll see in the next 50 years.”

The multi-award winning film “Harry Hellfire” is for music lovers. It’s about a self-taught guitarist who finds refuge through his playing while living in a tent on Long Island, and who is the “greatest rock musician you never heard of,” Wynn said.

“Forbiddance” is a cinematic drama from Russia that will have its world premiere in Moab on Monday, Sept. 22.

Many people may be unaware that the world’s most precious resource – seeds – are at risk. That’s the premise of “Open Sesame: The Story of Seeds” by award-winning documentary filmmaker and writer Sean Kaminsky. The film showing is Tuesday, Sept. 23 at 7 p.m.

“We had several film entries dealing with this same issue,” Wynn said. “This one was stellar.”

Many farmers who purchase genetically modified and patented seeds are unable to collect and save seed as they have done for thousands of years. That has “become the first inroad of farmers losing control of seeds,” Kaminsky said.

The film includes interviews with the Seed School in Tucson, Ariz.; Ken Greene of the Hudson Valley Seed Library; author William Weaver; Gary Nabham of Seed Savers Exchange – the largest non-governmental seed bank in the world; and Vandana Shiva, an environmental activist and author from India, who is teaching organic growing techniques to farmers.

“Open Sesame” includes a court case between Monsanto Corporation and the Seed Growers Trade Alliance. The trade alliance sued Monsanto for contaminating fields after Monsanto began suing farmers when the corporation’s patented seeds blew onto neighboring fields and took root.

“Patents should not be allowed on life forms that can spread,” contends Kaminsky.

“Have You Seen the Arana” by Indian filmmaker Sunanda Bhat addresses a similar topic about the loss of diversity as traditional medicinal plants disappear from the forest.

Tickets for individual films are $5; or a $30 transferable pass for the entire festival. Film showings will take place during the evenings only – a change in format from last year’s event.

Wynn and Denise Felaar co-founded the nonprofit Moab International Film Festival to showcase high quality, independent films from around the world that you typically won’t find coming out of Hollywood. Nearly 1,000 films were submitted for consideration in this year’s festival – which doesn’t pay filmmakers to show their films.

“Only a small percentage are selected – and they have to be aligned with our mission of making a difference in the community and beyond – we take that seriously,” Wynn said. “We want people seeing these films, and to be informed.”

He and his staff are already working on next year’s festival. The 2015 festival will take place during winter months for the purpose of attracting tourists to the area during Moab’s typically slow economic season, Wynn said.

To see the full listing of films and a schedule visit:

Moab International Film Festival films aim to captivate and inform

Only a small percentage are selected – and they have to be aligned with our mission of making a difference in the community and beyond – we take that seriously. We want people seeing these films, and to be informed.

What: Moab International Film Festival

When: Friday-Tuesday, Sept. 19-23

Where: Star Hall, 159 E. Center St.

Cost: All films transferable pass – $30, or $5 per show

Tickets available at, or Canyonlands Copy Center, Sgt. Pepper’s Music and Video, The T-Shirt Shop, Back of Beyond Books, and at the door.