Hitting the Road 

Backcountry Film Fest tours the West

Two years ago, Winter Wildlands Alliance began promoting noise management and conservation efforts in the winter wilderness with a very sensory indoor experience: a film festival.

The year was 2005, and WWA hooked up with Wyoming-based KGB Productions to show a single screening of KGB's Sanctified, which was billed as a ski film about backcountry preservation. At the time, KGB was shopping the film around various states, offering it to local environmental groups as a fund-raising opportunity. Part gnarly ski film, with footage of skiers and snowboarders carving backcountry slopes and part educational effort, Sanctified shone light on issues like development, land misuse and global warming affecting access to those very backcountry places where the movie was filmed. After the initial screening of Sanctified, a tradition took hold in Boise. The film festival is not only growing each year, but it's now also going on the road.

This year, Boise-based WWA, the umbrella organization providing financial and administrative support to 27 member organizations throughout the West, has beefed up its Backcountry Film Festival to include three feature films and four shorts. The series will also tour in support of WWA's member organizations for the first time.

"Our grass-roots groups kept coming to me and asking if there was a film they could show in their community that was winter specific that had an environmental message," explains Charlie Woodruff, development director of WWA. "And not just Warren Miller or Banff films that are all kinds of seasonal sports, but [a film] that's specific to our mission in winter." After two years of showing only in Boise and fielding requests from member groups, Woodruff says this year, he started planning earlier, got consent from filmmakers and began offering this year's package to member groups. So far, a dozen venues are in the works, including Fort Collins, Boulder, Steamboat Springs, the San Francisco Bay Area, Lake Tahoe, Montana and two shows in Salt Lake City.

Woodruff, who once telemarked through the streets of Philadelphia after snow shut down the city, says WWA's mission is to strike a balance between motorized-use areas and quiet areas on public lands.

"Everybody has the right to recreate," says Woodruff, "But there needs to be better management, better enforcement and better education."

However, while the films featured in the Backcountry Film Festival certainly promote the ideals of WWA, most of them address broader issues, including the effects of global warming on backcountry recreation and the struggle for economic and environmental sustainability. One feature film, says Woodruff, doesn't have a single winter scene in it, but it was chosen for its depiction of conservation efforts on behalf of the Conservation Alliance.

"Our only non-skiing film is called Hybrid.Pedal," explains Woodruff. "We're showing it because WWA is featured in it with our group in Utah, and it talks about the protection of the Payette River."

Another feature film, Weather We Change, says Woodruff, is about a group of skiers out of Lake Tahoe, who, at the beginning of the ski season, decide to work together to reduce their carbon footprint. The third feature is a film from KGB called Sublimation Experiment, which follows a group of non-pro skiers as they try to balance making a living with pursuing their passion for the backcountry.

Next year, says Woodruff, WWA is hoping to make a much larger push to find not only films that aren't already being screened in communities where WWA grass-roots groups may want to screen the Backcountry Film Festival, but also in the hopes of having something from local filmmakers.

"We really want to find short films that are grass-roots and don't have much of a tour at all, if they have any showing," he says. "We really want to get them out there and have them be interesting, have them give an interesting message and story line, and have an environmental message that's in line with what we're trying to do."

Winter Wildlands Alliance's Backcountry Film Festival. Fri., Nov. 16, 6:30 p.m. Egyptian Theatre. For more information, visit WinterWildlands.org.

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