love in the tetons

Best of the Fest: Adventure Film Festival 2014

Boulder hosted the 2014 Adventure Film Festival last weekend. Friday through Sunday, crowds gathered at Boulder Theater to watch films focused on exploration, adventure, and the environment. Now in its 10th year, Adventure Film is “rooted in the concept of ‘making your own legends,’ empowering each of us to create positive change in our world.”

Here are The Boulder Stand editorial staff’s top picks.

The Burning Man Ultra Marathon

burning man

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Many great films are known for their acting performances, technical precision, thoughtful cinematography, and moving scripts. The Burning Man Ultra Marathon had none of those qualities. But it was fun. Good, (mostly) clean fun. It didn’t make a half-hearted attempt at explaining Burning Man or question why we run. Instead, it gave us a glimpse at the inner monologue of a maniacally joyful fitness machine as he experienced a maniacally joyful event.

The Burning Man Ultra Marathon worked because it didn’t try to be something it wasn’t. There wasn’t even narration. Unadulterated snapshots of the intersection between two absurd worlds full of funny outfits–Burning Man and ultrarunning–needs no embellishment.

-T.H. Phillips

 

I Heard

Screen Shot 2014-10-09 at 4.55.28 PM

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Michael Ramsey’s three minute celebration of America’s wilderness evokes wanderlust, nostalgia, and Dr. Seuss. The short film travels across mountains and dunes, through forests, and then underwater while two voices, bright yet raspy as only children’s can be, narrate in Ramsey’s whimsical couplets. Smiling young climbers clap chalky hands. Herds of animals graze. The young voices deliver rhymed observations in whispers and shouts.

Created for the Sierra Club in honor of the Wilderness Act’s 50th anniversary, I Heard is encouragement to explore and enjoy. Before jumping into a body of water, the two narrators remind us: “And the best thing of all, if we take care of these places, we can have them forever: our shared, magic spaces.”

-Kelsey Ray

 

Love in the Tetons

Love-In-the-Tetons

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The story goes like this: 15 years ago, at-risk Los Angeles teenager Juan Martinez stepped off a bus in Grand Teton National Park and saw stars for the first time in his life. It was the beginning of a love story—not just between park and person, man and wilderness, but between Martinez and his now-wife Vanessa Torres, who fatefully worked as a ranger in Martinez’s beloved park.

Produced by Boulder local Amy Marquis, the film is a stellar start to the National Park Experience, a 10-part series designed to roll out over the next three years to celebrate the Park Service’s centennial in 2016. Sweeping cinematography softened by small touches—like a personalized park ranger wedding cake topper—offers the audience a simplistic slice of park life (and love) in a post-cable world that’s not to be missed.

-Gloria Dickie

 

Seeds of Time

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Dr. Cary Fowler always seems to be one step ahead. Whether it’s negotiating with indigenous farmers, running international conferences and committees on agriculture, recovering from divorce, or beating cancer, Fowler is as resilient and ingenious a character as you’re likely to find. But his most ambitious project yet, captured in the marvelously realized documentary Seeds of Time, pushes the boundaries of human understanding.

His idea was to build a frozen vault in Svalbard, Norway, which today does preserve seeds of thousands of different varieties of crops from around the world. For Dr. Fowler, the threat of global climate change has combined with unwise farming practices to render agriculture an increasingly risky business. If varieties of major crop seeds—seeds with different genes, and therefore different propensities and personalities—could be preserved, humanity might bounce back from global calamity.

The film follows Dr. Fowler as he sits through laborious meetings, travels to harsh and beautiful places, and reflects on his instincts, drives, and sober optimism about the future. Under the skillful direction of filmmaker Sandy McLeod, Dr. Fowler’s transcendent vision of scale—from seeds to planets, and from incremental steps to thousand-year trends—is smoothly and compellingly crafted.

While a few oversimplifications might irk experts, like the connection between food shortage and violent conflict, Seeds of Time is sure to challenge audiences to think more broadly and proactively in the search for hope on a changing planet.

-Avery McGaha

 

When Dogs Fly

when dogs fly

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When it comes to adventure filmmaking, Dean Potter is no rookie. Much of the climber’s allure stems from his penchant for pushing extreme sports even further into extremity. He’s especially famous for inventing FreeBASEing, where rock climbers use a parachute instead of a rope.

So it almost makes sense that he would strap his dog to his back and fly in a wingsuit through the Swiss Alps. Almost. Potter realizes what he is doing might be crazy, but for him it’s a logical next step. He’s pushed personal risk to the limit over the past few decades, and now he’s spreading that risk onto one of his most beloved companions: Whisper the dog. Potter’s obvious concern for his dog means he is risking more than ever before, and his candid narration proves that he doesn’t take such canine risks lightly.

All this pushes When Dogs Fly beyond standard climbing flick fare and into the realm of contemplation. And, after years of playing the fearless adventurer, Potter finally allows himself to be afraid.

-T.H. Phillips

CEJargon: I-News Founder and Executive Director Laura Frank Visits the CEJ

“I feel like my dad. What time is it?” she said, miming a look at her watch. “Time for some unsolicited advice.”

On Thursday, Oct. 2, Executive Director of I-News and former Scripps Fellow Laura Frank dropped by the CEJ to talk about her transition from journalist to entrepreneur.

Since Frank has spent the last several years building a sustainable business model for investigative journalism, her advice was more than welcome.

As a Scripps Fellow herself back in 2009, Frank spent the year recovering from the disheartening closure of Rocky Mountain News. Frank spent 20 years there and elsewhere as a data-driven reporter. (Though laughable now, the term for this used to be “computer-assisted” reporting.)

Laura Frank shows off an information packet for the I-News series "Loosing Ground," which combines stories with public forums to address the declining resources of economically disadvantaged people, even when they are paid more. "I love visual props," she said.

Laura Frank shows off an information packet for the I-News series “Loosing Ground,” which combines stories with public forums to address the declining resources of economically disadvantaged people, even when they are paid more. “I love visual props,” she said. (Photo/ Avery McGaha)

When Rocky Mountain News closed in 2009, a documentary about its fate caught Frank tearing up at the closure of such an impactful public advocate.

“That kind of blew my tough investigative reporter image,” she said.

Frank used her fellowship to found I-News, an organization that would focus on in-depth, investigative journalism. She wanted to tell stories that otherwise wouldn’t see the light of day.

At first Frank was the whole apparatus—reporting, filing content, pleading for grant money. But after a few key grants, and a good deal of stretching, she was eventually able to stack the ranks of I-News with talented staff. This allowed Frank to focus on fundraising and other business opportunities.

“Now when I said we, I actually meant we,” she said.

The second stage of success came last January, when I-News merged with Rocky Mountain PBS.

“Public media is not known for investigative reporting,” she explained. Normally, stations like RM PBS would just be a “pass through” for a national news source like NPR. But by making content really matter to local people, and producing that content locally, I-News was a valuable asset.

Plus, Frank said, it helped I-News reach financial sustainability.

To make this concept clear, she employed the analogy of a four-legged stool. The first leg represents grants and donations. The second is underwriting, code for advertisements. The rest of the stool is supported by earned revenue and paid content. The merger helped tack on those last two legs, because RM PBS already had tens of thousands of subscribers and the infrastructure to reach even more.

And while much of this finance gobbledygook might sound painful for a passionate reporter, Frank doesn’t see it this way. If anything, it’s her passion that makes her a convincing fundraiser.

“I’m already shocked at how personally gratifying it is,” she said. “But being an investigative reporter was easier.”

CEJargon: Scripps Fellows Venture to Mountain Research Station

Photo/ Gloria Dickie

Photo/ Gloria Dickie

Every Tuesday in the winter, Dr. Rory Cowie skis nearly 1,000 feet to the top of Niwot Ridge. He then digs down through 20 feet of snow to find the door to TVAN, the wooden shack that houses one of the longest running records of atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration in the world.

Cowie takes measurements, collects samples, and performs maintenance on key instruments. If he finds his way out of the shack, and isn’t caught snow-blind in minus-40 degree weather and up to 60 mph winds, Cowie zips back down to the Mountain Research Station carrying his precious cargo of data. When asked if there’s anything he can’t do, he replied, “I don’t have a scuba license.”

On Friday, Sept. 26, the Scripps Fellows and company took advantage of the last days of mild weather to visit Dr. Cowie and follow him around for the day. Here are some highlights about what we saw and what we learned.

Photo/ Gloria Dickie

Photo/ Gloria Dickie

  1. The research facility of INSTAAR, the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research. Offices, bathrooms, and a gift shop provide comfort to researchers and visitors year-round.

    Photo/ Gloria Dickie

    Photo/ Gloria Dickie

  2. The Rockies. The trail is so full of rocky glacial debris that it’s tough for vehicles to climb in the summer. In the winter, however, Cowie and his colleagues prefer a 1954 Snowcat – a tank-like vehicle designed to climb snowy mountains for science.

    Photo/ Avery McGaha

    Photo/ Avery McGaha

  3. This emergency shack. If you’re lost somewhere on top of the 20 feet of snow, you can search for the top of a familiar tree that might orient you. If the weather turns sour(er), you can use this method to locate one of a few emergency shelters, stocked with food and supplies.

    Photo/ Michael Kodas 2009

    Photo/ Michael Kodas 2009

  4. Migratory shrubs. That’s right, these islands of shrubs migrate. The right hand side of the shrubs (in this photo at least) is eroded by wind, while the left grows out slowly. Over centuries, this process moves the shrubs around. Plus, they’re a stunted version of the same species of full-grown trees just down the mountain—just up so high that they’re deprived of water and nutrients.

    Photo/ Michael Kodas 2009

    Photo/ Michael Kodas 2009

  5. Tundra heat lamps. Follow a tangle of electrical wires through the bushes, and you’ll find what the folks at the UC Merced Sierra Nevada Research Institute have set up in the tundra. It’s part of a multi-altitude study looking at effects of future global warming, hence the heat lamps. And yes, because I asked, the measurements are difficult to make when there’s 20 feet of snow out there.

    Photo/ Avery McGaha

    Photo/ Avery McGaha

  6. TVAN. This is the home of simple gas-measuring devices, which have helped deliver one of the most important observations in history — that carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere have risen dramatically over time. And this is the official entrance to TVAN, probably the most important shack in the world.

    Photo/ Michael Kodas

    Photo/ Michael Kodas

  7. The summit research station. At 11,300 feet, Cowie says the ridge around the station is so windy that the ground is swept bare of snow. That’s right, not even snow wants to live up there. (But they do have tea and internet.)

    Photo/ Avery McGaha

    Photo/ Avery McGaha

  8. Rocks. Get a dozen environmental journalists together and they will take pictures of anything, even rocks. They will even take pictures of themselves taking pictures of rocks.

    Photo/ Gloria Dickie

    Photo/ Gloria Dickie

  9. Horse hair. Before the digital age, scientists measured changes in air moisture using the properties of horse hair, which expands with more moisture. This horse hair is rigged in a little box and connected to a needle that scratches a trend line on a roll of paper. Another mechanism, using the tendency of metal to swell under warmer temperatures, mimics the same process.What this means for Cowie is that every Tuesday, he’s got to run outside the research station, pull one hand out of its glove, reveal a tiny bottle of ink from his ski jacket, and drip a few ink droplets on the needles. All without getting frostbite. And no, he does not know where the horse hair comes from, only that if you tried to update this system it would introduce bias into your half-century-long data set.

    Photo/ Michael Kodas

    Photo/ Michael Kodas

  10. This sign. Periodically throughout the day, the road down from the ridge is closed to vehicle traffic. That’s because another important shack is taking measurements of the air, and the exhaust from your journalist-packed suburban might contaminate the data. However, it is acceptable to roll down the mountain in neutral with the engine off. Just know this might affect your ability to steer the vehicle, so try not to be distracted by beautiful fall colors or large mammals eyeing you from the forest.

    Photo/ Michael Kodas

    Photo/ Michael Kodas