Like most meetings of our tribe the 9th annual Adventure Film Festival in Boulder had the feel of a family reunion. And in many ways that truly matter that’s exactly what it was. When the late Jonny Copp started this gathering of outdoor artists and athletes so many years ago he established a place in time when kindred spirits rallied in celebration of their shared culture in adventure, to applaud their accomplishments of the recent past, make bold plans for the future and sadly honor the dead. Now directed by Copp’s sister Aimee, Adventure Film continues to be far more than a collection of mountain inspired movies. An intimate moment over a long weekend the festival is a meeting place for a community whose bonds beyond blood forge friendships and collaborations to explore the literal heights of human endeavor, illustrated with camera and canvas.
It’s that sense of community which is Adventure Film’s greatest strength. At a time when many of the features included in the program can be easily viewed over the Internet for free the price of admission provides those who attend a seat at the table where the festival not only serves up great content but company. Together among the best adventure filmmakers and explorers of our time aspiring creatives can mingle with and learn from real people like themselves who defied the odds of failure to achieve success.
The festival began with a exhibition of flavor for each of the five perceptions of art. Senses of Adventure curated by Devaki Murch at the Prana store put on display an expression of beauty for the ear, eyes, nose, tongue and fingertips. Featured artists included professional climbers Renan Ozturk, Jeremy Collins and Katie Rutherford. Their paintings depicted landscapes and mountain summits of their travels.
Throughout the weekend other programs like the Outside Adventure Film School brought to the festival a range of talented filmmakers to share their experiences and offer guidance. Filmmaking veterans including Michael Brown and Tyler Young provided invaluable advice alongside relative newcomers like Alexandria Bombach, people who’s award winning films are setting a high standard for the latest in adventure media. In attendance as a student was the Oscar-winning producer of “The Hurt Locker” Tony Mark.
The movies presented at the festival over two days of screening included 44 of the best adventure films of 2012. Across a broad range of topics from people with disabilities to the plight of oppressed women in the Middle East filmmakers brought back stories from all over the globe. Unlike the adrenaline driven movies of the not so distant past contributions to Adventure Film have incredibly compelling narratives, strong characters and excellent cinematography. Gone are the days of ski porn with gratuitous orgies of snow, altitude and speed. What remains is the true essence of adventure as art form, as depicted in the lives of those who follow their dreams.
This year the winner of the Jonny Copp Foundation’s Jonny Copp Award was professional rock climber Jenn Flemming. Her work creating an exchange of female climbers with Iran is helping to create a cultural bridge beyond political rhetoric to encourage women to achieve beyond their social limitations through mountaineering. A grant in the amount of $2,500 will further her efforts and hopefully result in powerful storytelling over the next year.
The list of festival prize award winners is a veritable roll-call of the projects from the artists, athletes and activists in the outdoor community whose stories reveal the cutting edge of modern adventure. Receiving engraved plaques at the screening of their films each took the stage with an air of humility that belies the significance of their achievements, the movies themselves merely a record of the true life experiences that will likely inspire others to one day exceed their example.
And the Winners are:
Best Ski Film — Unicorn Sashimi, Felt Soul Media
Activism Through Adventure Award — Shannon Galpin, A MoveShake Story, Alexandria Bombach
Best Action Film — Tempting Fear, Switchback Entertainment
Ideal Adventure Award — Kyrgyzstan Project
Whole Foods Award — Murder Mouth, Projector Films
Leave No Trace Award — Meet Mr. Toilet, Focus Forward Films
Cinematography Award — The Nomad, Forge Motion Pictures
Best Climbing Film — Outside the Box, Stefanie Brockhaus
Visionary Award — Honor the Treaties, Eric Becker
Make Your Own Legends Award — The Old Breed, Rufus Lusk
Sierra Club Exceptional Athlete Award — The Gimp Monkeys, Duct Tape Then Beer
Screening one exciting movie after the next Adventure Film continues a grand tradition Jonny Copp started back in 2003. In the same spirit of friends gathering around to watch the slide show of a buddy’s latest trip on a high mountain mission the Boulder Theater hummed with energy and conversation throughout the weekend. A bar at the back of venue was a bit distracting as raised voices over drinks and clinking glasses often competed with sounds and dialog on screen. And perhaps too many masters of ceremony made for a seemingly disorganized program. Enthusiastic insiders sharing the stage before a growing audience of fans likely confused and may have inadvertently alienated those who only just arrived on the adventure scene, people who never knew nor likely ever heard of Jonny Copp.
As one of at least four major festivals, three of which are in Colorado, Adventure Film is emerging in a very competitive environment where movies submitted for consideration typically overlap. The most avid fans of the genre may one day find the Boulder event to be a redundant repetition of 5Point, MountainFilm and Banff. Each of these festivals run this risk and should be careful not grow so fast as to leave fans behind. But as long as Adventure Film organizers retain their strong sense of community spirit and work to maintain the intense commitment of volunteers and sponsors the festival will likely endure with the memory of its founder. This joyous occasion in 2012 is the life affirming legacy of a fallen climber who continues to inspire both passion and tears along an unending journey to explore life far beyond the next horizon.