The Beloit International Film Festival runs through this weekend. This year’s event includes a documentary about an influential person with local ties. “America’s Darling” tells the story of Ding Darling, an award winning political cartoonist who was also a pioneer in the area of wildlife conservation.
Jay Norwood Darling, who went by the nickname Ding, rose to fame by sketching editorial cartoons for the Des Moines Register. The illustrations were also syndicated and appeared in dozens of newspapers across the country. His work netted two Pulitzer Prizes: One in 1924 and another in 1943.
But the documentary produced by Sam Koltinsky also puts a spotlight on one of Darling’s true passions: conservation. Koltinsky says it was one of the many things that made Darling a renaissance man in his time.
“I don’t know very many people that have been so prolific not only in their drawings and sketches and artwork, but also changing our landscape across this country” Koltinsky said.
Koltinsky’s film details how Darling played a crucial role in the development of the federal Duck Stamp program, how he led the bureau that later became the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and how he founded the National Wildlife Federation. Darling gained those accomplishments despite having no real working experience in the area of conservation.
America’s Darling also gives us a look inside Ding’s early years, where his knack for getting people’s attention landed him in trouble. Darling attended Beloit College, but was asked to leave after sketching some less-than-flattering drawings of faculty members.
Darling returned to Beloit College and graduated in 1900. He later stated it was poor grades, not unflattering sketches, that got him kicked out.
Producer Sam Koltinksy says it was experiences like those that added another dimension to Darling’s personality.
“As passionate as Darling could be about conservation and stewardship, he could equally be just as fun and whimsical and able to connect with anyone and everyone” Koltinsky said.
While there are many archives that contain Darling’s cartoons and artwork, the film underscores the shared belief that conservation will be this man’s lasting legacy.
Koltinsky says after seeing his documentary, he hopes the audience walks away with a greater appreciation for the planet, while recognizing Darling’s leadership skills.
“Because he was able to bring people together from all walks of life to realize his vision. And I think that’s a message that’s missing in our society today here in this country” Koltinsky said.
If you plan to catch America’s Darling this weekend, there will be an exhibition of Darling's original artwork and a showing of artifacts tied to his time at Beloit College.