With global warming and water shortages keeping the environment on our minds, the ecologically focused films featured in the 2008 Riverkeeper Film Festival seem especially relevant.

The Riverkeeper Film Festival, which started in 2005, serves as a fundraiser for the Neuse River Foundation, which works to maintain, restore and education people about the Neuse River. The foundation’s work has become especially critical for the pollution-choked river; as reported by the Independent in May 2007, the Neuse appeared on the Top 10 Most Endangered Rivers list compiled by the American Rivers Foundation.

According to foundation spokeswoman Kim DeCoste, the additional locations for this year’s event are to help other N.C. areas along the Neuse get a chance to experience the films for themselves: “We’d really, really like the people at the other end of the Neuse River to see the festival as well.”

Accordingly, the organizers of this year’s festival, which will play at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences and the North Carolina Museum of History in various programming blocks from 7-11 p.m. on Jan. 19, are working overtime to spread their message by taking the show to Kinston, New Bern and Oriental.

The 16 shorts included in this year’s programming feature two documentaries by local filmmaker Art Howard, including George Divoky. Divoky is a profile of a scientist who has studied Black Guillemots, a type of Artic bird found on Alaska’s Cooper Island, since 1970. The short focuses less on Divoky’s isolated existence and more on the sometimes unnerving ways the wildlife has adapted to the climate shift, offering some chilling images of tropical birds who’ve headed north to escape the heat, and bears left starving as wildlife disappears.

Howard’s other entry, Sturgeon City, focuses on N.C. river preservation, with a look at a restoration effort in Jacksonville. Other shorts focus on specific animals, such as The Hooded Merganser, which looks at a reclusive duck found in the Great Lakes area; Longfin, a look at the life of a New Zealand freshwater eel; and the hour-long Killers of Eden, an extensive look at the notorious Twofold Bay whale killings told through interviews, photographs and news records.

In addition, there’s some shorts that deal with eclectic subjects, including Ray Bandar: A Life with Skulls, looking at the history of a man who has collected the skulls of more than 7,000 animals, and City of Mermaids, exploring the history of an old-school “performing mermaids” park in Weeki Wachee Springs, Fla.

The festival also offers some promising fiction shorts. Swimming, an award-winning student short by Diane Lisa Johnson, tells of a shy mail clerk (Danielle Taddei) involved in a pen-pal romance under false pretenses. The film packs a feature’s worth of romantic-comedy plot into 18 minutes, and its charm and sweetness keep it from overstaying its welcome. Another fiction short, Water Moccasin, is a family drama that offers some serious indie-flick cred in the form of editor Paul Crowder, who also edited such acclaimed documentaries as Dogtown and Z-Boys and Riding Giants.

DeCoste says that the festival’s films relate to the goals of the Neuse River Foundation. “What we want to do is get people thinking, and let them enjoy some good filmsnot just environmental films, but films with good narratives,” she says. “It’s not all gloom and doom about the environmentit’s just fun. “

Tickets for the festival are $10 each. From 3-4:30 p.m. at the Museum of History, Paperhand Puppet Intervention will perform, and there will be additional film screenings. For more information, call the foundation’s office at 856-1180 or visit its Web site at www.neuseriver.org.