The Ripple Effect of Adventure Film

Timmy O'Neill rouses the crowd at the 9th annual Adventure Film Festival in Boulder Colorado

Traveling from Madison to Boulder, Colorado my flight was delayed by almost 8 hours. I arrived in Denver two hours after the party started. Adventure athlete and women’s empowerment activist Shannon Galpin was celebrating her birthday at the Bitter Bar. With everyone in town for the Adventure Film Festival dozens of people would be there that I hadn’t seen in too long. Despite my best efforts to lead what might be described as a normal life I keep getting drawn back to all these creative and exciting people who inspire me to live with passion and occasionally find myself too tired or inebriated to safely drive home.

Here in Boulder this community of artists, athletes and activists gather every year to celebrate the original vision of the late Jonny Copp. Created 9 years ago the Adventure Film Festival was Jonny’s way of bringing people together to share their work and to encourage one another to push the envelope of their skills and talents to produce compelling stories. In a vast ocean of creative expression Adventure Film continues to ripple and spread like cascading concentric circles of enthusiasm that prompt individuals all over the world to follow Jonny’s example long after his death. Though killed in 2009 during a tragic avalanche while on a film project in China with fellow climber Micah Dash and cameraman Wade Johnson Jonny continues to inspire the community he loved and his spirit endures. This is his legacy. The ripple effect of his time on earth is evidenced by the ever expanding quality of films and expressions of pure human potential presented each year at the Adventure Film Festival.IMG_3851

It was well after 9PM when I finally collected my rental car and drove 45 miles in the rain on slick asphalt through darkness lit only by the glow of my iPhone. As Google maps lead the way I ticked off the minutes as an unseen landscape on the I-470 Tollway whizzed past the window. Still groggy from the flight I listened as an electronic voice gave me directions. I simply did what I was told. After a few wrong turns and several recalculations the destination was on my right.

Wearing the scarf Shannon sent me from Afghanistan I walked into the bar and was immediately greeted by the smell of cannabis. Legislation passed since the last time I was in Colorado cleared the way for users to inhale. Can you actually smoke pot in public?

In the dimly lit space I could see no one I recognized. But suddenly my friend the famed conflict zone photographer Claudia Lopez appeared to lunged at me across a chest-high table for a hug and kiss. Then I saw movie producer Beda Calhoun whose upcoming film DamNation promises to change how the world thinks about the integrity of free-flowing rivers. Within minutes I caught sight of Shannon. Admittedly wasted she handed me a metal cup of something with ice that smelled of ginger beer and maybe gin. Her videographer and editor Sarah Menzies opened a tab and bought be an Old Fashioned that was mixed with authority for people who really like to drink. Together with Claudia and Shannon these three women are working on an amazing film about the first women’s cycling team in Afghanistan called Afghan Cycles. The Adventure Film weekend had begun.

By 10PM the opening night party at the Patagonia retail store on Pearl Street had only just wound down and I missed it. But everyone still in the mood continued the festivities at the Bitter Bar. I was excited to see old friends like Michael Brown.  A talented director and mountaineer with a few Everest summits under his belt he leads the Outside Magazine Adventure Film School. Climber and outdoor activist Asa Firestone was there with filmmaker Dominic Gill. Earlier that day they had received a grant from the MountainFilm Festival Telluride to create a feature-length version of their short film CEU Climbing School. Their story follows the efforts of Centro de Escalada Urbana to introduce rock climbing to the children who inhabit the slums or favelas of Rio de Janeiro Brazil.

That first evening in Boulder I also met the very talented painter and illustrator Michelle Daigle. Viewing her work in an iPhone slideshow I was thoroughly impressed by her since of composition, use of both color and texture and her whimsical yet thoughtful subject matter. Moments later I was introduced to Sarai Snyder who advocates for women riding bicycles through a program called Cyclofemme. At events In 184 cities across 31 countries her organization celebrates all levels of athletic performance among women and girls as a means to achieve lasting social change.

Smart enough to know when I’ve had enough I was ready to head for bed just as the bartender made last call. Though I was fine to drive I wasn’t interested in making the trip to Golden where I was invited to stay with friends through the weekend. A distance of only 20 miles was more than I cared to travel and to save me the journey at 2 in the morning my friend Arlynn Ilgenfritz offered me her couch to sleep on. A member of the Pink Team on the CW reality TV show Capture along with survival expert Kirsten Rechnitz, she might have saved my life. At the very least Arlynn spared me the anxiety of making my way down an icy stretch of highway 93 during Colorado’s first sustained snowfall of the year.

The next morning a thick layer of slushy snow cover every surface. After the devastating floods that tore through the region less than a month earlier I imagine the people of Boulder where please to see water in a solid state and no change of moving. I  made a quick road trip north to visit my friend Jim Davidson inspirational speaker and author of the Ledge. With a quick turnaround after a long chat I headed back to Boulder to have lunch with Rebecca Shannon product manager at the outdoor equipment company Kelty. Heading back to Pearl Street I bounced over to the offices of Paradox Sports where I checked my email and shared a beer with my buddy Timmy O’Neill as he prepared to MC the first night of  Adventure Film at the Boulder Theater.

The whirlwind experience ramped into high gear as everyone gathered to watch hour after hour of exciting and inspiring movies. Over the next two days the audience experienced adventure in all forms ranging from high-speed wing suit flight with Espen Fadnes through the French Alps in the film Split of Second to a peak-bagging road riding romp over California’s 14ers with climbers Cedar Wright and Alex Honnold in their movie Sufferfest. The features included long form pieces detailing the duration of profound experiences like building a surf cabin on the shores of a beach above the Arctic Circle. In North of The Sun Norwegian wave riders Inge Wegge and Jorn Ranum spent nine months to create a space to enjoy big ocean curls through the dead of winter. And director Jordan Campbell presented his incredible depiction of doctors Geoff Tabin, Allan Crandall and Roger Furlong who ventured into South Sudan in order to provide free cataract surgery for hundreds of blind people the film Duk County.

Combining both the adrenaline charged excitement of pure adventure with the philanthropic drive to improve the lives of people across the planet Adventure Film delivers an aspirational message that insists all things are possible. Standing in direct contradiction to belief that world travel and exploration are reversed exclusively for the wealthy and privileged each film reveals the joy that can be discovered in the pursuit of dreams.

At the conclusion of the program very late on Saturday evening Jonny’s sister Aimee Copp, who is now the festival’s executive director, acknowledged the strength and camaraderie of the global community of adventure. And in recognition of their commitment and personal sacrifice in preserving the wellbeing of Boulder County residents directly impacted by the recent floods Aimee presented this year’s Copp Dash Inspire Award to Rocky Mountain Rescue. Named for two fallen climbers the prize goes to those individuals whose work encourages the continued striving toward excellence in all adventure endeavors. Moving forward into the future the rippling effects of Jonny Copp’s idea will assure the creation of many other exciting visions for many many years to come.

The Joy Trip Project is made possible thanks to the generous support of MAKO Surgical Corp. If you experience chronic hip or knee pain it might be time for a replacement. Ask your doctor if you’re a candidate for MAKOPlasty. I’m glad I did.MAKO_logo_TM

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Author:James

I'm a freelance journalist that specializes in telling stories about outdoor recreation, environmental conservation, acts of charitable giving and practices of sustainable living.

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