The seventh annual Wild & Scenic Film Festival, hosted by the Palos Verdes Peninsula Land Conservancy, will take place virtually on Sunday, Jan. 17 and feature six films addressing world-wide conservation efforts.

Palos Verdes Peninsula native Mitch Dion’s film “The Sacramento River: At Current Speed,” his look at the vast impact of the 400-mile river, closes the festival which begins at 4 p.m. The focus of other films range from an attempt to save rare sequoias in Portland to a group's goal of reducing plastic use.

This is filmmaker Dion's first documentary and he said he spent a lot of time interviewing people who live, work and are politically active along the Sacramento River. How to allocate the resource, on the front lines of water distribution, was important, he said.

“One of the key takeaways for me is that the water doesn't belong to landowners, it's public domain, it belongs to all of us," said Dion. "And it's up to us to be responsible about how we allocate it.”

Dion had been a river guide for many years around the world before settling in Northern California, and he still had a passion for the water. So he started exploring the Sacramento River, which is relatively near his home.

“I kind of written off as sort of this industrial pipeline, moving water from one part of California to another, and discovered that it was a pretty cool place,” Dion said.

Dion discovered tons of wildlife in a lot of areas that felt like wilderness, even though many times he was surrounded by homes, groves or freeways.

The filmmaker and his friend Tom Bartels hopped into Dion’s dory, just below Redding, and pushed off with Bartels’ camera equipment and minimal food and camping gear and floated 300 miles down to the Sacramento Delta, through the capital. They crossed agricultural land and critical spawning habitat for the endangered King Salmon.

“We were, basically 12 to 14 hours a day, working on the river,” Dion said. “He was the entire camera crew and I was doing all the logistics and set-up.”

Dion said his grandparents — Mitch Dion, also known as Mike, and Claire Head Dion — moved to Rolling Hills where they had a couple acres on Pine Tree Lane during the time of World War II. They raised chickens and had cows, ducks and horses.

“There was some food scarcity,” said Dion of the time during the war.

“My dad (Mitch Dion Jr.) and his brothers would do all the farm chores, but when they had extra time, they would saddle up the horses and ride up and over the top of Palos Verdes, down into the Portuguese Bend area, which is now the Conservancy or Reserves, and swim the horses in the ocean and ride home.”

Towards the end of his father’s life, they started supporting the Palos Verdes Peninsula Land Conservancy.

Dion said he grew up during a time when any bit of open land was considered wasted.

“My childhood was watching all the fields I played in one day get plowed over and turn into shopping centers and housing developments the next day,” he said. “The evolution of societal perception of open space is very gratifying.”

And, the benefit of having space now for people to walk and run, during the time of coronavirus, is especially important, Dion added.

This year’s film festival features an online auction presented by the White Point Community group, volunteers who support the restoration and beautification of the White Point Nature Preserve in San Pedro. The auction begins the night of the festival and ends Jan. 31.

Virtual doors for the festival open at 4 p.m. Advance tickets are $30 or $40 for tickets purchased on Jan. 17.

The films will be left on the platform for a week if ticket buyers miss the live festival.

To purchase tickets, visit https://qudio.com/event/PalosVerdes.

For more information, call (310) 541-7613 or visit pvplc.org or sacramentoatcurrentspeed.com.

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