Outdoor Adventure Films Build Energy and Community

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Festivals Create Space for Connection and Inclusion

By Jacqui Somen

The Women’s Adventure Film Tour, The Oriental Theater, March 2024. Photo by Scott Battista

Throughout the year, a local Berkeley theater hosts dozens of movies about outdoor adventures. Film festivals meant to sell movies and create buzz have evolved into gathering places where enthusiasts can forge deeper connections, hear underrepresented stories and get excited about the adventure season ahead.

Last month, outdoor enthusiasts watched hours of people recreating in the Women’s Adventure Film Tour, the Kendal Mountain Film Tour, the Fly Fishing Film Tour and the National Paddling Film Festival at The Oriental Theater, also known as The O.

These festivals have done their job building excitement for the season, but they’re also telling important stories from marginalized communities that may have been rippling beneath the surface for decades.

“There are a lot of people deserving of these stories to be told,” Golden-based filmmaker Riley Hanlon said. “These new films show the industry what else is possible instead of just celebrating the status quo.”

“I feel so strongly about centering diverse voices and seeing that merge into stories of different ways to get outside,” continued Hanlon, who directed the documentaries “Mt. Blue Sky” and “COMBA, We Love You.” 

Conor Ryan, a Hunkpapa Lakota, professional skier, Indigenous filmmaker and former Denver resident, uses film to reframe how people think about being outside. 

In the past, “the way of telling stories has only focused on one particular way of experiencing the outdoors,” Ryan said, “and that is inherently a white way of telling the story.” 

Through his work, which included coproducing and codirecting “The New Radical,” a ski series that aired at the Salomon Quality Ski Time Film Tour at The O in November, Ryan is seeing a collective shift toward people wanting to hear Indigenous stories. 

“People in our communities really have a desire to see diversity and collective action mirrored in the mountains,” Ryan said.

The Women’s Adventure Film Tour on March 27 went beyond being a forum for women who excel in sports historically dominated by men to showcase their adventurous spirits. Several of the films had more profound messages of inclusion and accessibility.

The film “The Ascension Series — Morag Skelton” is part of a series that explores stories of people pushing through barriers to define themselves in the great outdoors. Morag, a deaf climber, reminds viewers that “the outdoors, it’s for everyone.” In another film, “A Bitch of a Race,” a group of women and people of underrepresented gender identities tough it out against the elements and hills of Pittsburgh in an alley-cat style race created just for them.

Andy Bercaw, owner of The Oriental Theater, said these film festivals are really successful. When he first started hosting them 15 years ago, “a ton of people attended, and they were really stoked to be there,” and not much has changed in that regard. 

Any adventure-seeker can tell you it feels good to be in a room filled with people who share your love for a sport, and to watch those who perform it exceptionally well on the big screen. A theater full of shared interest and joy also provides a safe space for people who may have historically been on the margins of their sport to share their perspectives.

“There’s an incredible sense of kinship in that space. It’s a powerful feeling,” Ryan said.

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