This past weekend, Carbondale, Colorado’s Crystal Theater hosted 45 adventure films as part of the third annual No Man’s Land Flagship Film Festival (NMLFF). All of these films had two things in common: first, they all featured female athletes (crushing everything from skateboarding in New York City to ice climbing in Vail, base jumping across Utah to swimming in the Paralympics); and second, they highlighted the beauty of being outside and being active.
These two commonalities aren’t a coincidence, and exploring the connection between feminism and the human relationship to the natural world is no 21st century revelation. And adventure films like those at NMLFF, in addition to modern academic and scientific conversations, have also helped to bring contemporary environmentalism to the forefront of the outdoor industry.
A film entitled “The End of Snow” played on Sunday, the last of the festival’s four days. It begins like many of the other films: a snowy, mountain landscape twinkling in the sun; a woman and her skis in the snow. Unlike many of the other films, however, this 20-minute film cuts the inspirational action-packed footage and focuses on the snow itself; how it’s changing, how it’s melting faster than ever before; how there might be one day (in our lifetime) when winter, as we know it, does not return.
Last year the Environmental Protection Agency reported that most of Colorado’s April snowpack has declined up to 60 percent and most of the Centennial State has warmed two degrees Fahrenheit in the past century. The report credits human technological innovation and population growth for the decline. A shrinking snowpack not only shortens the skiing season, but it also encourages subalpine fir and other high-altitude trees to grow at higher elevations. As such trees crawl upwards, the alpine tundra shrivels — leaving its ecosystems, the health of which is vital to the livelihood of many plant and animal species, at great risk.
Jane Zelikova is not only the star of “The End of Snow,” she’s one of the film producers and a climate change scientist based at the University of Wyoming and in Colorado. Her life’s work has been dedicated to constructing the bridge of science and public understanding of climate change. A few years ago she founded Hey Girl Productions, an all-female film production company, hoping to use adventure-style films to disperse climate change science across wide audiences. After all, with the health of our planet in jeopardy, many adventure sports are at risk. You can’t ski a glacier if there is no glacier to ski. “I think filmmaking is a really powerful tool that scientists haven’t tapped into yet,” Zelikova explains.
In a panel designed to tackle environmental activism, Zelikova admits to the crowd the future is bleak. There is no doubt that climate change is primarily human caused. “We are basically conducting a giant experiment on a planetary scale. We are changing our environment constantly and seeing how it reacts.”
There are a dozen women in the room listening to Zelikova and her co-panelist Katie Boué, a freelance media creator and outdoor advocate, speak about environmental activism. For years Boué, too, has tapped into the power of narrative and social media to tell the story of our endangered planet.
“Empathy is a really great bridge between science and these stories,” Boué says. Women are particularly poised to tell compelling and meaningful stories about the earth, she believes, and embolden those around them to make socially- and environmentally-conscious lifestyle changes.
Jainee Dial, co-founder of Wylder Goods, an online market platform for the “modern outdoorswoman” with gear and apparel curated specifically for sustainability and social impact, spoke at a panel about women in the media. As a business owner, she strives to set an example of what a mission-driven, community-oriented company could look like and how businesses can leverage their economic power to selectively support the health of the planet and society.
“If we are the content creators, we should keep pushing the boundaries of who we are and what we want to express,” Dial says. Now that women are carving their own spaces in outdoor media, she says, we can use that space to incorporate other important issues like the environment.
The power of a film festival like NMLFF lies in its example-setting, she believes. “When we see another woman absolutely crushing… we subconsciously give ourselves and other women the chance to do it, too.”
Transfer this mentality to environmentalism and consider the centuries of practice women have standing up to oppression—in many ways, women are the prime candidates to fight for nature’s health and wellbeing. “I want to see the intersectionality of all these different injustices,” Dial says.
Boué echoes this sentiment and believes inclusivity not only among women, but also the greater outdoor community is paramount to making headway against climate change. “We must call people in, not out. If you call people out they’re going to get defensive. Call them in, bring them to the table.”
She reminds us, “The places you play will no longer be your playground unless you protect them,” and continues: “There’s so much opportunity in the outdoor industry to do good work… You just have to carve out what you want to do and where your opportunities are. Then connect the dots.”
As Zelikova puts it, “We need to build a bigger tent and invite everyone in.”
It’s a lot to take on. Women are strong; women are resilient. Women are forward-thinking. And women understand protecting and prioritizing nature is the same as protecting and prioritizing ourselves. Truthfully, as Zelikova says, “The challenges we face today are huge. And we need everyone in the room. In the end, we’re all going to be affected by climate change.”
No Man’s Land Film Festival tours year-round and world wide. REI Denver will host a screening on Thursday, September 28, 2017. Click here for more upcoming screenings and tour dates.