On Inspiration

I’ve found inspiration in many forms over the past four years. I’ve been inspired by exceptional professors at Shepherd University, my family members, and my co-workers. Not to mention artists like Maya Angelou, writers like Tony Morison, activists like Prince Ea, and politicians like Elizabeth Warren. But the people who inspire me most are my peers.

I’ve been fortunate enough to be involved on two teams at Shepherd University whose members push me to be my best, support me in every endeavor, and give me hope for our future as nation and world.

The first is the Multicultural Leadership Team (MLT) which I talked about in my first blog post. MLT is a group of social justice advocates whose efforts are rooted in service and community involvement. I’ve gained teammates from all over the world, and learned about so many new perspectives and cultures are not covered or represented in my classes. MLT has given me a passion for social justice, and provided me with the tools to be a leader and advocate in my community. Most importantly, it has shown me the power and beauty in diversity – something that I crave to experience, and that has guided me to seek a place with more diversity in my post-graduate endeavors.

The second team that has shaped me at Shepherd is the Debate and Forensics Team. A dear friend of mine roped me into joining last semester and it has turned out to be one of the best decisions I’ve made in college. Not only do I get to surround myself with intelligent, like-minded people with impeccable speaking and arguing skills, but I also found a new form of creative expression that has been an essential part of my life the past year. I participated in poetry and prose interpretation events that allowed me to find pieces I’m passionate about, compile them in a creative way, and deliver them with power and precision. My pieces covered topics like feminism, political awareness, environmental activism, and gender equality.

This semester I spearheaded our Showcase event that took place at Town Run Brewery. After watching all of my teammates nail their performances back to back, I realized how socially conscious and aware every single piece was: from mental illness and alcoholism awareness to LGBTQ activism and more. The event was a blast, it went perfectly (besides losing my phone charger). We even got to collect tons feminine hygiene donations for the Go With the Flow campaign, created by Kaitlyn Miller, a fellow MLT member.

This team, like MLT, is made up of driven, compassionate students. Knowing that I have friends like these who will be leaders in the world very soon, gives me so much hope for my generation and those to come. I have so many sources of inspiration around me, in my peers, teammates, and friends.

Check out a goofy little promo video some debaters made for the team: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mJVvgos4a1s


On Education

My teachers have always been the reason I maintain interest in academic settings. A teacher who is passionate about their work is inspiring, not only to accomplish more in that field but also to put that sort of dedication to your own passion. Teachers at Shepherd University have inspired me and opened my eyes to things I never even contemplated. What really means a lot is when these teachers encourage me to do my best and give me positive reinforcement when I succeed on a task I put a lot of work into. The teachers who teach me about passion inspire me to try and do great things for the people around me.

~Blair Cherelstein

On Education

Education is key.

After venting to my dad about how nervous I was to take my first upper division class in the political science department, he said something I will never forget: “Mags, there’s nothing you don’t know that you can’t learn.” These are words I’ve thought back to time and time again – when I get a bad grade, struggle understanding a concept in class, or spend 8 hours trying to navigate the inner works of WordPress. I consider my constant desire to learn more, my genuine enjoyment of my seminar classes, my craving to find the answers to questions, a privilege.

I grew up in a house where education was valued, and where my best performance was expected. I went to a very small private school from kindergarten to 8th grade, and then a large public high school before attending Shepherd University. Education was always a given for me. School was always a place where I felt like I belonged, weather I wanted to be there on that particular day or not.

Unfortunately, this is not the experience of millions of children in the U.S. today. I learned this first hand while volunteering with Children’s Home Society in Martinsburg, WV. The Children’s Home Society has a tutoring program that services students from low-income communities who are referred by their teachers for at risk of failing. Every other Saturday the children come in and work on homework, math, reading, and spelling worksheets, and arts and craft activities.


I learned a few things very quickly. First, these kids are not aware of their immense capacity to learn. Second, most believe that they are not capable of producing good work. Third, no one at home is monitoring or encouraging their academic success. It is so easy for these students to slip through the cracks in the public school system. Many students who fail are eventually passed on because the teacher doesn’t have either the desire or resources to get them up to speed.

This experience in working to empower youth through education has led me to pursue a career as a teacher, and maybe one day, to impact education policymaking. Every student, regardless of their race, gender, sexuality, or socioeconomic status, deserves to be given the opportunity I was. Everyone deserves to be told that they are smart, capable, and valuable to our world. It’s my goal as a future educator to make sure each of my students know and believes this about themselves.

~Maggie Cohee Nevin

What I Care About

I have Faith in Feminism.

I am the raging feminist in any given group. You can count on me to call out every patriarchal macroaggression at the party, to go into what is now a well-rehearsed rant any time someone says “grow some balls”, and to beat the dead horse when it comes to whether or not Vice President Pence should have lunch with a female colleagues without the presence of his wife. I can’t tell you the number of times a friend has rolled their eyes I break down the reinforcement of the gender binary, or how many times I’ve heard, “Here she goes again,” as I complain about the toxicity of masculinity in our society.

Feminism to me is not merely the belief and activism for gender equality, and gender equality is not only the belief that women should be afforded the same privileges as men. Feminism to me, is the belief that every marginalized group deserves to have their voices heard, and receive the same benefits that the majority receives. The fight for gender equality means relief for all women from the misogynistic cultural and political systems in which we are rooted, and relief for all man from the pressures of a violent, suppressive, hyper masculinity.

I won’t shut up. I’ll continue start conversations, not at the right time, not in the right place, and not on a popular topic. And some people around me will probably continue to roll their eyes, and turn their heads. But I won’t stop talking until running “like a girl” is considered as a complement, until the phrase “man up” is replaced by “be strong,” and until Mike Pence having lunch with a female colleague is viewed the same as Mike Pence having lunch with a male colleague. I have faith that efforts in the name of feminism will one day bring about this equal culture that we long for and desperately need, but we have a lot of work to do before that day can come.

~Maggie Cohee Nevin

What I Care About

Being a transgender woman, I have been exposed to a lot harsher realities that I wasn’t aware of before coming out. One huge issue is family acceptance. All too often trans children face rejection from their families in the form of abuse, conversion therapy, or being forced out of their home. Trans youth homelessness is one of the highest rates of the homeless population. A lot of the time these are kids that need access to proper medical care if they have transitioned or seek to transition. A lot of time these kids are homeless because they come from a family that won’t accept them or kicked them out and that’s horrible. This is a topic that needs some more light shed on it. ~ Blair Cherelstein

Get the Buzz at our Spring Fundraiser!

ACFF Spring Fundraiser Features Pollinator Film & Discussion
Endangered Rusty-patched Bumble Bee Film, Pollination Experts,
Food, Drink, & Music at Wild Goose Farm on April 29th


 April 5, 2017. Shepherdstown, WV. — The American Conservation Film Festival 3rd annual spring fundraiser will shed light on threats facing a number of America’s pollinator species and how we can help them at a party including festive food, drink, and music at Shepherdstown’s beautiful Wild Goose Farm on Saturday, April 29th.

In light of the Rusty-patched bumble bee (below) being placed on the Endangered Species List in early 2017, ACFF will screen the film Ghost in the Making: Rusty-patched Bumble Bee (http://www.rustypatched.com/) followed by a discussion with three pollination experts addressing the endangered species listing, native plants and healthy habitat, and home landscape design that supports pollinators. Leda Huta, director of the Endangered Species Coalition, Dr. Larry Stritch, the US Forest Service’s National Botanist for 18 years, and horticulturist James Dillon of Native Havens LLC will participate in a panel discussion and answer questions from the audience.

The historic and bucolic Wild Goose Farm, located just outside of Shepherdstown, will serve as the venue for this year’s party where guests will have a chance to wander the grounds, watch a short film, and enjoy a seasonal buffet dinner, drinks, and upbeat music from the Charlie Bare Quartet at the farm’s party barn. A brief live auction will offer attendees the chance to bid on interesting experiential items as well as buy “shares” supporting various film screenings and education initiatives of the Festival. More information on the event and tickets are available at http://conservationfilmfest.org/attend/spring-2017-fundraiser-protecting-pollinators/

The American Conservation Film Festival is in its 15th anniversary year of presenting the best conservation films from a diverse group of filmmakers from around the world, hosting a filmmakers’ workshop, and offering special screening events around the region throughout the year. This year’s festival runs October 13-15 in Shepherdstown, with an encore weekend of award-winning films on October 20-22. ACFF received over 200 film submissions from 38 countries this year and is now in the process of film and programming selection.

This annual party is the primary fundraising event for the American Conservation Film Festival and has quickly gained a reputation as one of the more informative, entertaining, and interactive soirees of the season and region. Seats are limited and advance ticket purchase is highly encouraged.

Intern Blog: About Blair

If you want to get to know me…

I am 22 years old and a Student at Shepherd University. I will be graduating this spring and will continue to live in Shepherdstown. I am originally from Westminster Maryland, home of McDaniel College. Growing up in Westminster exposed me to some interesting things. This area while having lots of farmland was always very urban as well. There is always something to do there. I’ve lived there my whole life except for college. As a child struggling with gender and sexuality even from a young age, being from a fairly conservative part of the state made it hard to express those feelings without facing some sort of backlash. As a child I remember playing soccer for different teams in the area or hanging out with friends from school but going through teen years proved to give me a different outlook on my hometown. I still visit and reminisce of old stories that happened there but moving forward is always good. Now that I have gotten older my interests have changed from action figures, and sports, and cartoons to film, social media, and cartoons. Having almost graduated college I look back and don’t regret my decisions, I instead look forward to what the future holds in store. I plan on working in the film industry out of college and shortly moving West to start a more permanent life.

ACFF goes to DCEFF – Environmental Film Festival of the Nation’s Capital

World Premier of Last of the Longnecks

We are thrilled to once again be partnering with the Environmental Film Festival of the Nation’s Capital to co-present an extraordinary conservation film!  This year, that film is Last of the Longnecks, a beautiful, poignant, and alarming story about the profound decline of giraffe populations in Africa and efforts to protect them.  Screening at the Carnegie Institution for Science at 7pm on March 23rd.  WATCH THE TRAILER HERE.    GET TICKETS HERE.


(USA, 2017, 92 min.)

Directed by Ashley Scott Davison.

Being such a recognizable animal, the image of a giraffe can instantly conjure sentiments of African sunsets, untouched wilderness and the serenity of nature within the minds of viewers of all ages. It’s silhouette is both unmistakable and evocative, and is used around the world in advertising to sell a wide range of goods. It has even been used as a logo for the Olympic Games and football’s FIFA World Cup. Few travel operators or safari brochures fail to include the giraffe when they market Africa as an exciting travel destination, and the species is a must-see on every safari-goer’s wish list. Unlike Africa’s Big Five – the elephant, buffalo, rhino, lion and leopard – the giraffe is not in demand as a trophy so revenue from legal hunting is limited. But the giraffe, like the elephant and rhino, is an agent of change in habitats and landscapes. Yet how can it be that the majority of the world is oblivious to the giraffe’s fight against extinction?

Discussion with director Ashley Scott Davison and Development and Communications Director for ACFF, Jennifer Lee, follows screening.

Meet our 2017 Interns!


We are so happy to welcome two interns from Shepherd University to ACFF this semester!  Both Maggie and Blair helped out at the 2016 Festival and did a fine job.  Fortunately for us, they seemed to enjoy their time learning about ACFF and sought internships for their final semester at Shepherd.  They are concentrating on communications and marketing, in accordance with their fields of study and interests.  Maggie is leading up the effort to start a special “Intern’s Blog” and Blair will be analyzing our social media efforts and outreach, among other things.

We hope you’ll follow their progress and congratulate and thank them if you see them!

Blair Cherelstein is a 22-year-old Shepherd University senior from Westminster, Maryland.  She has always loved movies and sports, specifically crime thrillers and soccer.  She has been a member of multiple choruses and acting groups.  Blair is a Mass Communications major and will graduate this spring.


Maggie Cohee Nevin is a 22-year-old Shepherd University senior from Martinsburg, West Virginia. In May, she will graduate with a Bachelor of Arts in English, with a concentration in literature, and a minor in political science. At Shepherd, she is a member of the Multicultural Leadership Team, the Debate Team, and the English Honor’s Society. Maggie’s professional experience includes legislative internships at both the state and federal level. Upon graduation, she hopes to obtain a position working with underprivileged youth through AmeriCorps, and eventually pursue a Master’s Degree in Education.


2016 – A Good Year for ACFF

We deeply thank everyone who helped make 2016 such a successful and engaging year for ACFF – our filmmakers, audience members, donors, and community partners.  Please take a look at our accomplishments for 2016, and, with your help, what we hope to do in 2017, OUR 15 YEAR ANNIVERSARY!

DOWNLOAD 2016-year-in-review with PHOTOS





The mission of the American Conservation Film Festival is to promote outstanding films and the arts to educate and inspire people to become engaged in conservation issues.

This mission is achieved by: providing a venue for diverse conservation films that rarely receive a wide showing; celebrating conservation film and video in the vibrant atmosphere of historic Shepherdstown, West Virginia; showcasing independent, international, student, and regional films; offering an education component that complements film selections and supports those interested in conservation filmmaking, and; supporting emerging filmmakers as they are beginning their careers.

We are proud and grateful to share these accomplishments from this year.


Nearly doubled film submissions from 150 to 270 and from 38 counties, due to enhanced outreach to new and alumni filmmakers and film schools as well as a new submission platform (Film Freeway).

Selected and screened 35 of the most compelling, diverse, and visually rich films from around the world to present over two weekends of the Festival. Streamlined submission and selection processes for more efficient review and administration. Film topics included climate change, alternative energy production, wildlife conservation, cultural heritage, heroes in conservation, and biodiversity.

Welcomed over a dozen scholars and filmmakers, including four student filmmakers, to speak with audience members about film topics.

Presented the fifth annual Conservation Filmmaker Workshop, a two-day documentary filmmaking workshop, to 24 emerging filmmakers with instructors from independent production companies, HHMI Tangled Bank Studios, Conservation Media Group, and National Geographic.

Provided financial support toward the travel, lodging, and filmmaker workshop tuition of four aspiring filmmakers from Washington, DC, Atlanta, and Chicago through the Alex Kemnitzer Emerging Filmmaker Fund.

Launched five new film awards in addition to three existing awards to recognize excellence in the following categories: Green Fire Award (for overall excellence); Student Filmmaker Award (with a $500 cash prize); Foreign Film Award; Short Film Award; Green Spark awards highlighting a conservation hero, pathways to sustainability, and inspiring the next generation; and the Audience Choice Award.

Offered a full second weekend of the Festival to present an encore of the eight award winners and two films not screened on the first weekend.

Realized a 46% increase in ticket sales over 2015 and 118% increase over 2014. Utilized larger venues to accommodate 40% increase in attendees.

Established a Festival Headquarters during the first festival weekend in downtown Shepherdstown to welcome visitors, sell tickets and distribute information, and provide a gathering place for audience members, sponsors, and filmmakers.

Hosted a live wildlife program from the Blue Ridge Wildlife Center to educate audience members of all ages about the region’s native wildlife and habitat.

Partnered with the Shepherdstown Rotary Club and Shepherd University to present two film blocks especially targeted to and free for high school and college students. Presented a special film block of student films and festival previews to Shepherd University Environmental Studies students to spark interest in conservation filmmaking.

Offered free admission to all students 18 or younger at all film blocks and to Shepherd University and Shenandoah University at selected film blocks, significantly increasing youth attendance throughout the festival.

Employed four Shepherd University student interns during the festival to assist with festival operations, headquarters staffing, and customer service. Engaged approximately 35 volunteers throughout the year, contributing over 300 volunteer hours, in the areas of event planning and hosting, technical support, promotion, and more.


Held a spring fundraiser featuring the film Unbranded and its filmmaker, with 125 attendees, raising over $7,000 for ACFF and $3,000 for the Mustang Heritage Foundation to support a military veteran’s adoption of a mustang through its Mustang Mentors program.

Hosted Best of Fest special movie screenings at the Weinberg Center in Frederick, Maryland and Barns of Rose Hill in Berryville, Virginia, with a total of over 300 people in attendance.

Partnered with the Shepherdstown Rotary Club and Shepherd University’s School of Business & Social Sciences to present the film The Bat Man of Mexico in accordance with the Rotary’s World Affairs Seminar featuring the theme of pollination.

Partnered with the National Park Service Centennial Film Festival at the National Conservation Training Center to present three park-related films from an ACFF alumni filmmaker and founding member.

Partnered with the Environmental Film Festival of the Nation’s Capital to co-present films at our respective film festivals (Unbranded at DCEFF in March, Babushkas of Chernobyl at ACFF in October).

Partnered with the Shepherdstown Film Society for a special film screening of Dare To Be Wild and a preview of 2016 festival films.

Created an ACFF in the Classroom program to provide Instructor Screening Guides that include course mappings and curricular keywords to help instructors connect the content of four selected films to specific topics encountered in the classroom.

Continued to build income reserves through sponsorships, grants, and individual donations to secure fiscal viability and sustainability for the organization, while keeping expenses at a consistent level.


As we celebrate our most successful year yet, we look forward to expanding our influence, growing our educational impact, and developing stronger partnerships to ensure relevance, sustainability, and outreach far into the future.

With the support of individuals, businesses, foundations, and community partners, we hope to:

  • Grow programs that introduce students to conservation issues, science, media, and filmmaking.
  • Recruit partners in the environmental, science, and media fields to help teach, promote, and execute these educational programs.
  • Provide access to select ACFF films to schools, community groups, and organizations and greater exposure for filmmakers and the critical issues they explore through their films.
  • Continue to present the most important, contemporary conservation films to diverse audiences throughout the region.
  • Provide resources that facilitate further understanding and exploration, opportunities to convert inspiration into action, and connections to the causes and organizations that will help people make a positive difference.


“I always look forward to this festival. Extremely fluid operations, best ever. Nice balance of venues, film choice, and film-related events.” ~ audience member

“I recently have been struggling with direction, creativity, etc [and] this workshop has really opened my mind to new possibilities and has inspired me to take on some new things.” ~ Conservation Filmmaker Workshop participant

“After my experience at this workshop and festival, I have decided to reassess my goals as a filmmaker and to pursue something more inline with my passions.” ~ student filmmaker and workshop participant

“I was delighted at last to have ACFF represented at the Barns. Thank you again for such a wonderful evening and event!” ~ Best of Fest hosting partner