91 minutes, 1998, Hi8

“Varmints to Star in UNC’s New Film Festival”
The Daily Tar Heel, February 5, 2003
by Tom Previte

Cute, disgusting, precious, expendable: All these words describe an animal that’s both the size of a squirrel and the new star on campus tonight.

Prairie dogs will be the center of attention for the opening of UNC’s first Environmental Geography Film Festival, sponsored by the James M Johnston Center for Undergraduate Excellence and the Department of Geography.

The 91-minute documentary, VARMINTS, is the first of two films to be shown at the festival.

“There are many different attitudes toward the prairie dog,” Havlick said. “Some think we should keep them alive and protect them while others view them as flea-ridden Varmints.”

According to a press release from High Plains Films, the creator of Varmints, the film “details the intertwined and conflicting perspectives of cowboy mythology, animal rights, property rights, varmint hunting, ecology and politics.” It will feature graphic scenes of the extermination of prairie dogs by both individual and systematic means.

The documentary has received numerous awards including Best Conservation Message at the 22nd International Wildlife Film Festival and a Bronze Medal at the Columbus Film Festival. It presents the prairie dog dilemma from a myriad of perspectives, ranging from animal rights activists to hunters.

“I want to try to get people to think about the connection between people and nature,” Havlick said. “These films provoke questions.”

As a change of pace, the festival also will feature This is Nowhere, a documentary following the lives of RV-ers who share one thing: camping each night in Wal-Mart parking lots.

According to High Plains Films, the film tackles themes of urban sprawl, tourism and consumerism through this unique approach. The films are directed by Doug Hawes-Davis, who will be on hand for discussion after both viewings.

Hawes-Davis directs for Montana-based High Plains Films, which specializes in documentaries and has made more than twelve films since 1992, including Wind River and This Land is Your Land. He said documentaries inspired him to make films. “It may sound cliche, but I find truth to be stranger than fiction,” he said, “I hope that my films are provocative and that people learn something from the perspectives explored in them.”

American studies and geography classes - one of which is taught by geography professor Scott Kirsch - will be treated to a special showing of Hawes-Davis’ two films, The Naturalist and Southbound. Kirsch said using film as a teaching tool helps encourage students to become engaged in the material.

“A contemporary view of environmental policies helps get students involved,” Kirsch said. “My hope would be that these films get people involved in how places and environments are represented in film and, in doing so, get people interested in how they interact with their environments.”

Varmints will be shown at 7 p.m. today, and This is Nowhere will be shown 7 p.m. Thursday. Both will be shown in 104 Peabody Hall. The festival is free and open to the public. “It’s a free and fun time,” Havlick said. “I hope to see a lot of people there.”