The maligned Gunnison sage grouse is about to become a star.
The bird, which has long been ridiculed for its bizarre appearance and quirky mating rituals, has also been at the center of a fight between conservationists and oil and gas companies over the future of Bureau of Land Management-owned land in western Colorado.
The Gunnison sage grouse is one of the ten most threatened birds in North America, says writer, former dancer and Westword contributor Erica Prather. While it may be headed toward extinction, the puffy creature is making its debut as the subject of her first short film, "Last Chance to Dance."
Prather will be screening her humorous experimental documentary ode to the Gunnison sage grouse, on Thursday, January 26, at the SIE Film Center.
The short opens with a voice-of-God narrator, who chronicles the plight of the threatened bird. As he speaks, the viewer watches documentary footage of the Gunnison sage grouse, with minimalist animation spelling out the bird's bleak future if the BLM relaxes its rules and allows for oil and gas drilling and construction on the land that the agency now protects.
In the movie's second act, Prather abandons conventional documentary form entirely. We watch a quirky performance piece in which her friends dress and dance as a big-horned sheep, a fox and a BLM worker, while she prances around as an Edward Abbey-reading, apple-chomping sage grouse.
The film wraps up with a call to action, asking viewers to write letters to the BLM demanding that the agency continue to protect the last of the bird's habitat.
As Prather tells it, the plight of the sage grouse is all the more urgent because of Donald Trump's slash-and-burn attitude toward the federal government and regulation. While issues like Obamacare and abortion rights will get plenty of attention during his administration, federal lands aren't exactly front and center in the public imagination. She hopes that "Last Chance to Dance" will help turn the tide in its own little way.
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The film screens as part of a ninety-minute touring program of offerings from the Wild and Scenic Film Festival, which takes place in Nevada City, California. Prather, along with nonprofit advocacy group Rocky Mountain Wild, picked a slate of films from the festival, including Our Canyon Lands, Nature Rx and Faith Against Fracking, to show at the Denver event.
The screening carves out "a nice place where people can be like, 'Now that I'm all riled up and fired up about these films, I want to do something,'" says Prather. "We will have a place where people can take action."
A reception at 5:30 p.m. will precede the program, which starts at 7 p.m. on Thursday at the SIE, 2510 East Colfax Avenue. Tickets are $15; for more information, go to the SIE FilmCenter website.