Whether documentary or fiction, “message films” have gotten a bad rap. It’s mostly deserved. If you’re subsuming plot, character development and humanity under “your message,” your film, regardless of its good intentions, is destined to be forgettable.

For organizers of issue-based film festivals, overcoming the public’s assumption that your films are going to be dry, preachy or just plain boring is a challenge.

“Sure, we might have some events that appeal mainly to ‘the choir,’ but the movies in the Wild and Scenic Film Festival have a wider appeal,” says Mary Cerullo, associate director of Friends of Casco Bay, which hosts the acclaimed, eight-year-old short film festival on Saturday at the University of Southern Maine.

“It’s a different demographic from our other events,” Cerullo said. “I think it’s a great date night: There are six films, popcorn, inexpensive wine and beer, a free raffle for really expensive things.

“Traditionally, we get younger people, families. (Cerullo suggests this year’s Wild and Scenic would be appropriate for children older than 7 or so.) Once we get them once, we tend to get them again, and most are not members of Friends of Casco Bay.”

Which isn’t to say this year’s festival doesn’t have a strong commitment to the issues of conservation and environmental awareness.

“Wild and Scenic is a way to do outreach in protecting Casco Bay and the entire environment,” Cerullo said. “It brings people together to learn about us and environmental protection. Hopefully, they think about the films afterward, and what they can do.”

This year’s lineup includes the documentary “Eastern Rises,” about a pair of intrepid fly fishermen braving the hazards of the Russian Far East to find the ultimate uncharted fishing spot; “Sign Language,” a documentary about the career of a dedicated sign holder (winner of the prestigious Virgin Media Shorts); and two humorous yet educational animated shorts, “Octapodi” and “Animals Save the Planet: Energy Efficient Penguin” (from Aardman Animation, creators of “Wallace and Gromit”).

Cerullo is also enthusiastic about the Maine-made “Joe Payne: Casco Baykeeper,” a tribute to longtime environmental crusader Payne by students from the USM media studies program, and the documentary “Spoil,” a strikingly-photographed exploration of a Canadian wilderness endangered by development.

The latter, Cerullo said, “is one of those films you walk out of thinking, ‘I’ve never seen something so beautiful in my life.’ ”

Clocking in at a total running time of under two hours, the Wild and Scenic Film Festival offers Maine film fans a thought-provoking evening at the movies.

Dennis Perkins is a Portland freelance writer.

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