Last week, Texas Parks and Wildlife partnered with YETI to put on the first annual Wild Texas Short Film event.
It was an event with all sorts of conservationists in mind. The film event was put on by Ben Masters, who is most famous for the documentary "Unbranded" that followed him and three friends as they rode wild mustangs from the border of Mexico north to Canada. The film event was sponsored by YETI and the Stewards of the Wild, a program with Texas Parks & Wildlife for young outdoorsmen to get involved with Texas conservation. The Stewards are working to establish more Texas public hunting lands, create an artificial reef off the coast, and open a new state park.
The evening consisted of five short YETI-produced films, music by Shane Smith and the Saints, and great beer and pizza from Stanley's Farmhouse in the Texas Hill Country.
"Pronghorn Revival" follows Texas biologists, with Dr. Louis Harveson at the lead, and their efforts at reintroducing the iconic pronghorn population to southwest Texas. The fastest land mammal, the pronghorn population is greatest in the Texas Panhandle and suffers from lack of resources as it grows. The pronghorn population went from 17,000 in 1970 to less than 3,000 in 2003. The pronghorns needed restoration help.
Texas conservationists and natives alike couldn't bear to see this population go extinct.
There were a total of four transplants from the Panhandle to Marfa, Texas, where the population is expected to thrive.
In the Q&A session, Dr. Louis Harveson and Thomas Janke answered some questions about future elk reintroduction, which are native to the Guadalupe Mountains, and what importance the resurgence of pronghorn does to the ecosystem. Texas Parks and Wildlife has discussed reviving elk but has had pushback from exotic ranch owners. Pronghorn are part of the landscape of West Texas, and not only are an important browser in the animal chain, but can also be an important species for the hunting economy in Texas.
"A Backcountry Recovery"
"A Backcountry Recovery" follows Green Beret Veteran Ray Knell as he and Ben Masters ride horses 1,000 miles along the Continental Divide. Knell suffers from PTSD and severe anxiety and has found that the combination of horseback riding and being in the backcountry wilderness helps him find purpose in life and a reason to love life again.
This film was especially touching and Micah Fink, the director of the Heroes and Horses program had some wonderful stories about the veteran recoveries he's seen due to reliance on horses in the wilderness.
Filmed by National Geographic Films, this was a beautiful cinematic journey through some of the wildest parts of our country.
This short film follows J.T. Van Zandt, son of famous country blues singer Townes Van Zandt. J.T. talks about what it was like having Townes Van Zandt as a father and how nature, fishing, and boat building made him the man he is today.
J.T. Van Zandt, who is now a Texas fishing guide and boat builder, really embodies the spirit of fishing and its meditative power as he grapples with his familial troubles.
In the Q&A session J.T. had a wonderful quote about being a good person:
"Be a good man... go to sleep, then wake up early and do it again."
"Third and Goal"
"Third and Goal" is a short film by YETI that explores the little-known art of milking elk. The milk produced by elk, dubbed melk, is a product the dairy industry has yet to capitalize on. Jordan Shipley is out to prove he is the world's first elk whisperer.
Jordan Shipley brings the same intensity and dedication that he had on the football field to his elk milking.
The film was released by YETI on April 1, but melk is no joke. During the Q&A session after the film's showing, Shipley seemed as serious about his new career as ever. He is sure Matthew McConaughey would be down to try it.
"Selah: Water from Stone"
This touching film shows viewers that conservation ultimately starts with people loving the land. The Bamberger preserve was restored because David Bamberger figured out how to bring water back to some of the driest land in the Texas Hill Country. It took him 46 years but now the land has 11 springs.
It was inspiring to see David Bamberger address us in person about the power of Mother Nature and how we need to listen to her and work with her to restore decimated landscape. Selah is a psalm and means "to stop, to pause, and to look around you" in Hebrew. David wants people to share his land and always take care of it. The Bamberger land preserve is a beautiful swath of land that he promises will never have electricity, a vending machine, or running water.
A few bonus films included some Texas wildlife footage filmed for PBS and a trailer of YETI's new feature-length "Charged," which follows outdoorsman and chef Eduardo Garcia, who was out hunting when he touched a dead bear on a live electric wire. The film promises to be an emotional journey into Garcia's recovery.
The event was an inspiring one as it brought the Texas outdoor community together for an evening to see successful conservation efforts, appreciate the nature around us, and even laugh a bit as we wonder what elk milk tastes like.
This was the first annual Texas Wild Short Film event, but it surely won't be the last.