As part of the DOCUTAH International Film Festival held in St. George and Kanab last week, a festival feature called ‘DOCUTAH Commons’ was held September 23 at the Crescent Moon Theater.

While hundreds of documentary films were screened for inclusion in the DOCUTAH event, two were chosen specifically to stimulate creative thought about strategies that could be applied and successfully adapted to meet the needs of small western towns. After the documentaries were shown, brief discussions were held with the audience, producers, directors or stars of the films.

Would they have any relevance for people living in the rural west?

“We like to see discussions (of issues) with civility,” explained Dixie State College President Dr. Stephen D. Nadauld, of Dixie College’s participation in DOCUTAH. “College campuses have always been a good place for discourse on issues.”

With this being DOCUTAH’s inaugural year, attendance wasn’t what they hoped it would be, but Dr. Nadauld said he felt the festival’s future was bright. Four hundred fifty films from many countries were submitted to the film festival, with 153 being selected for screening. Dixie State College Vice President Christina Schultz was instrumental in bringing the film festival here.

The first of the two documentaries selected under the DOCUTAH’s Commons concept was “Milking the Rhino” by David E. Simpson. This film examined wildlife conservation and eco-tourism from the perspective of people who live with wild animals in rural Africa. It showed portraits of Africans utilizing community-based conservation, to cope with their future existence.

The basic premise is how do poor ranchers of the Maasai tribe of Kenya and Namibia’s Himba and wild animals, get along during a very long drought? Both wild animals and poor nomadic rancher’s animals were all competing for the same parched, dry ground.

“Milking the Rhino” demonstrated that people can work together on an issue that allows co-existence, as well as utilize something they thought was a competition or hindrance (wild animals) to their own advantage (money to the conservancy for help with both).

Jeanie Magill, who researched and produced the film, was on hand to visit with the audience after the screening, with Kanab City Councilman and CEBA board member Ed Meyer leading the discussion. “These two films were specifically selected on lessons to be learned and opportunities that we may have in rural Utah,” said Myer.

Magill, aNew Mexico rancher, said she had previously been involved with Westwind Safari and Tours in Kenya. The company did educationally-based safaris – that was when she first became intrigued by community-based conservation. She hopes people will look at the film and note what the Africans have done, and see if the approach could work here as well. “Community-based conservation started out as a grass roots movement there,” she said.

Grazing conservation monies are being used to build roads, clinics and schools. “The reality is, members of the conservancy allow locals to decide how they are going to it, and where the money is spent,” said Magill. “Community-based natural resource management is empowering to them.”

An audience member expressed appreciation that the documentary offered differing opinion, with equal weight.

Kanab resident Lloyd Laycook said the documentary demonstrated how the very same conflicts exist here. “Most are opposed to change, even for the good.”

Magill responded that for the people she interviewed, as well as for the public lands conflicts in the west, working out the issues takes a long time.

The second selected film for DOCUTAH Commons was “Burning in the Sun” by Cambria Matlow and Morgan Robinson

This documentary depicts what 26 year-old West African/European Daniel Dembele does in Mali, to start a local business building solar panels, the first of its kind in the sunny, arid nation. Daniel’s goal is to electrify the homes of rural communities, 99% of which live without power. The story is about Dembele’s work growing the idea into a viable company, and the business’ impact on his first customers in the tiny village of Banko.

He also had to get the go-ahead from community leaders as he was building the solar panels by scratch...literally. Nuts, bolts and used parts was what he used on the project. On a small investment, mainly with his mother’s help, who had established a relationship with the local public and gave him financial assistance to get the project finished, Dembele’s team worked the magic to bring electricity to a community that had never experienced it.

The grand finale of DOCUTAH in Kanab was Friday evening. After showing films all day, there was a reception at Frontier Movie Town from 5 to 6 p.m.

Then it was on to Angel’s Landing at Best Friends, where the Symphony of the Canyons played music from some of the memorable old westerns made in the Kanab area. The music was accompanied by a slide show of local photographer Barry Glazier’s works.

Following the concert was a showing of the final film of the festival, “The Legend of Pancho Barnes and the Happy Bottom Riding Club.” It was a very entertaining and humorous documentary about Florence ‘Pancho’ Barnes, one of the first woman pilots who was quite a character.