Filmmaker Feature: Jennifer Ekstrom

Who are you? (where are you from, where do you live, why did you get into film, whatever you want to tell us really)

  • After growing up in eastern Washington, I’ve been happy to call Nevada City home since 2015. I moved here the year after I published my first film, and was delighted to learn I was landing in the hometown of my favorite film festival! I had loved attending Wild & Scenic On Tour events in other communities, but had no idea about the extent of wonderful festivities and networking in store for me at the flagship event held in Nevada City and Grass Valley.

How many films have you had in the festival?

  • I’ve been fortunate to have two films selected to screen at Wild & Scenic. Redefining Prosperity, which I co-produced with John de Graaf, screened in 2018 and then Rise Beyond Gold, a short I directed about a proposal to re-open the Idaho Maryland Mine in Grass Valley, premiered in 2021. The timing of the Rise Beyond Gold screening is so important because Nevada County is currently in the process of deciding whether to allow the developer to re-start this mine. People can still watch the film and weigh in before its too late!

When was your first Wild & Scenic?

  • My first year to attend was 2016. It was a life-changing event. I had met San Francisco filmmaker and distribution pro, Steve Michelson, a few months prior while on tour screening Last Rush for the Wild West. At Wild & Scenic that year, he introduced me to filmmaker John de Graaf, Kevin White of Filmmakers Collaborative, and Melinda Booth, who was the film festival director at the time. I went on to work with all of these amazing people in various capacities and can say unequivocally that a whole new world opened up to me as a result of my attendance at Wild & Scenic.

How many times have you attended?

  • I’ve been at Wild & Scenic every year since 2016, with 2021 being a virtual experience due to the pandemic. Kudos to the producers for pulling that off so seamlessly! I look forward to continuing the run, hopefully in person, in 2022!

What is your favorite Wild & Scenic memory?

  • As a filmmaker who does this work in order to make a difference on issues I find important, my favorite memory is from the 2021 festival because a workshop (Mining Gold Again in Nevada County?) was organized around my film Rise Beyond Gold. The online format allowed hundreds of people to gain access to the film and to learn about the threats to our community posed by the potential re-opening of a local gold mine.

    still from Rise Beyond Gold

What is a new experience you had at WSFF (something you learned, someone you met, something you did, etc)

  • I have to say that the filmmaker party at Wild & Scenic is just the best! It’s incredibly inspiring to be in the same room with so many talented filmmakers who are all dedicated to having a positive impact in the world. If you’re a filmmaker on the fence about attending in person, I wholeheartedly encourage you to do so. Collaboration is critical in this industry and the networking opportunities at Wild & Scenic are so rewarding!

What makes Wild & Scenic Film Festival special or unique?

  • Nevada City and Grass Valley are a couple of the most lovely towns imaginable! The setting, combined with terrific film curation and a festive atmosphere make it an awesome vacation for just about anyone. And don’t forget that winter sports in Tahoe are just up the hill for an amazing vacation add-on.

What inspires you to make films?

  • I have deep concerns about the impacts humans are having on our own habitat and the other creatures we share it with, much of the time without even a thought. As a lifetime environmental activist working in the communications realm, I came to the realization that film is an incredibly important tool. Not only can it have a tremendous emotional impact on the viewer, but also the staying power and reach are so valuable.

What are your favorite stories to tell?

  • I love to dig in and expose important truths that would otherwise stay in meeting rooms and behind closed doors.

Do you have any projects you are currently working on?

  • I’m currently working on a film that I hope will get people thinking more critically about their choices around the meat they eat. Every time we choose a conventionally raised animal product wrapped in styrofoam and plastic, there are tremendous environmental impacts and animal suffering associated with that purchase. I’m trying to make a film that isn’t a downer or a guilt trip, but that will inspire people to make more informed and better choices about the meat they consume.

How has COVID impacted your filmmaking?

  • To be honest, it has been very difficult. All of the funding prospects for the project I had originally planned for 2020 tanked at the onset of the pandemic. Luckily I was still able to make Rise Beyond Gold as a pro bono community service, thanks to the generous help from producer Menkin Nelson and camera operators Robby Hogg and Scott Miller. We all love this community and want to do what we can to protect it from the gold mine re-opening in the heart of our community.

What is something you learned in 2021 and how will you be applying it in 2022?

  • Resilience! Keep going, keep trying, keep doing. Don’t let a lull get you down. Keep looking for the next swell on the horizon, paddle for the waves and always remember that a new crest is coming.

What is on the horizon for you in 2022?

  • LOL! I’m still figuring out what’s on the horizon for the rest 2021… I hope 2022 continues to bring inspiration and opportunities to have a positive impact through film. In these divisive and challenging times, I aim to create in a way that brings people together and helps them discover common ground.


Follow Jennifer on Instagram @catalyst_communication and on Facebook @catalystcommunicationservices