We were so happy to get to ask American Rivers Communications Director and Executive Producer of American Rivers Media, Sinjin Eberle, to take time out of his busy schedule to catch up with us and answer some questions about what he has been up to as of late. His responses have us excited to reconnect with him at WSFF 2022. We hope you enjoy the results our Q&A session:
Sinjin Eberle, who are you?
- While I was born in California, most of my formative years were spent in Colorado. My parents had a “sustainable farm (read, hippies)” in Paonia, Colorado before sustainable farming was cool. After high school I went to Arizona State University for a while then finished college at Ball State University in Indiana. After a solid corporate career, I moved to Durango, Colorado and now am stoked to work every day on behalf of our nation’s rivers, streams, and clean water with American Rivers.
- I have been a rivers person my whole life – one of my favorite photos is of the three-or-four-year-old me in a striped shirt standing on the banks of what was probably either the Stanislaus or American rivers in California – pure stoke! Rafting (and a short dabble in kayaking) has always been a big part of my life. But now, mountain biking, hiking, overland travel and film/photography fill out all of my free time! Oh, and cocktails. Never forget the cocktails!
- I got into film more or less by circumstance. When I arrived at American Rivers, we had a grant to do more “creative storytelling” across the country. We had dabbled in film, but all of it had been outsourced, and was a heavy lift for communications staff to pull off. I had friends in the outdoor creative space, and one thing led to another when I crossed paths with Brendan Leonard. He was the first one who nudged me to lean into film a little bit. Brendan and his friend Forest Woodward had just been on a Grand Canyon trip with Forest’s dad, and Brendan thought it could be a great film and encouraged me to consider helping out with it. Together (along with the Gnarly Bay team) we built The Important Places, which really changed conservation storytelling, IMO. The next year, I was offered an opportunity to work on an episode of CNN’s The Wonder List, and the rest is history!
How many films have you had in the festival?
- Holy cow – you made me just take a look at our film catalogue and count – over the years, and among all of the films that I either produced, directed, or made completely, and including this year, I get to 16 in the festival, and more than two dozen total over the past 7 years. Crazy!! Now, believe me, some have been better than others, and certainly films I “have had in” the festival is fungible, since sometimes as a producer or “sponsor” of a film I would have been representing the film that we helped pay for and launch. Other films have been solely or partially mine – so this 16 number is a combination of all of those nuances. Still – quite a few!
When was your first Wild & Scenic?
- 2016 – we had I think 4 films in the festival, and Amy Martin had been asked to do an exhibit of her photography at a local gallery in support of our film The World Beneath the Rims. Bruce Aiken, another character from that film attended as well, as did Kevin Fedarko, author of The Emerald Mile, THE quintessential Grand Canyon adventure book. Amy and I drove out there with my truck full of her photography (Durango to Flagstaff to Nevada City and back is quite a haul!) But such a great road trip and what a blast for my first Wild & Scenic!
How many times have you attended?
- 5 years in a row until 2021 was cancelled. I was super bummed out to not be in Nevada City (in the 38 degrees and rain waiting outside the South Pine Café!) in January. Literally, super bummed.
What is your favorite Wild & Scenic memory?
- My first year (2016) I went to the big premiere event at the Nevada Theatre and was simply blown away. I was sitting with Kevin Fedarko (Author of The Emerald Mile), when writer Craig Childs performed his spoken word jam with some musicians behind him – it felt awkward at first, yet as his tempo peaked it was absolutely all-consuming. Then, artist Jeremy Collins got up and did a live, large-format drawing in sync with scenes from his film Drawn – so incredibly powerful and inspiring – not a dry eye in the place. What a night!
What makes Wild & Scenic Film Festival special or unique?
- A number of things, for sure. The vibe of being so embraced by the towns of Nevada City and Grass Valley is incredible. The care that the staff puts into making the filmmakers feel valued and taken care of is absolutely top notch. I don’t feel like a VIP at any other festival like I do at Wild & Scenic. The vast selection of films, speakers, activism, and social events is the best. I don’t say this because I am writing this for you, but the kickoff weekend of Wild & Scenic is literally one of my favorite weekends of the year. Other holidays don’t hold a candle to walking home quite tipsy from The Golden Era at midnight in the pouring rain after a full day of events and films and parties and gatherings on the corner of Broad Street – NO WAY!!
What inspires you to make films?
- Well, in my role with American Rivers, my entire world is thinking about and finding ways to inspire more people to take action, to care, about their rivers and clean water for everyone. And I am not just talking iconic rivers like the Colorado or the Rio Grande or the Mississippi. But backyard rivers like the Yuba or the Bear. Or my childhood home river, the North Fork of the Gunnison, or my current home river, the Animas. But in terms of stories, we have such an amazing opportunity to tell these stories that resonate with so many people. I approach the projects we work on from the lens that we may be telling the story of such-and-such person in some place, but that they can be relatable to anyone. The raisin farmer watching his well decline. The father and son coming back together in a special landscape. The Native American elder feeling such sacred sanctity with his river. The African-American descendent of someone from the Underground Railroad, growing food in her urban, community garden. The artist following his muse in the most compelling landscape on earth. The 9 year old boy simply running through a forest on a day away from school. So many great stories to tell, and we have the opportunity, the privilege, to tell them.
What are your favorite stories to tell?
- A friend of mine recently commented that I was the most “topo-philic” person he knew – that I was so inherently, instinctually, connected to place. I like thinking about all of our relationships to these landscapes, and we all have them. Whether you grow up in Brooklyn, Bluff, Bend, or Blythe, we all relate to a place, and making that connection between a person and their place is fascinating to me. There is certainly more of those stories to tell, and we should do it better than just a flashy Instagram story.
Do you have any projects you are currently working on?
- Yes – I currently have three films in some phase of production, all of which we hope to have ready for Wild & Scenic 2022. One is in set in Northwestern Colorado, one will traverse a Colorado River tributary into the Colorado then down to Lake Powell, and one will focus on a tiny canyon in Northern Arizona and how native people are bringing back the medicine to their lands. This is a big year for us on the big screen!
How has COVID impacted your filmmaking?
- Well, travel has been the most obvious, and we have had to really overhaul how we conduct ourselves in the field. We developed a set of pretty rigid protocols for a film we made in last summer that really created another layer of diligence we had to conform to. On that project, we had three different field outings, and all of them went off without a hitch, so it can be done. You just have to ramp up the Type A preparation and diligence to safety and you can pull it off. Being able to do interviews without a mask on again post vaccinations will be a true delight!
What is on the horizon for you in 2021?
- A lot. The first year of the Biden Administration will be a pivotal year for getting things done on behalf of climate, equity, and protecting and restoring America’s rivers. We have a great opportunity to make solid progress on our global environment this year, before the 2022 campaigns start. But we can only do it if we do it together (cue, The Avengers!) The time is now – there is literally no time to sit back and be complacent.
- On the film front, we have 2021 lined out pretty well as I mentioned above, but I am already thinking about what comes into pre-production in late 2021 and into next year. And, I have a few projects of my own kicking around in my mind, I just have to pull the cord and get after it. As my buddy Kevin likes to tell me, creatives always have 5 or 6 pots simmering on the stovetop at any given time – it’s which one boils over that we have to attend to. For me, which one will that be? Time only knows.
- Oh, and I can’t wait for Wild & Scenic kickoff weekend 2022 – I’LL BE BACK!!
Thank you so much for the opportunity to do this – was great to think about all these great memories, and what is to come. Truly grateful you included me in this project.
Interested in learning more about Sinjin and his work? Follow him online:
@AmericanRivers (IG, FB, TW)
@Ridesandrivers (Sinjin on Instagram)
@SinjinCD (Sinjin, on Twitter)
Sinjin on Facebook = https://www.facebook.com/sinjin.eberle