A moon hangs over a winter camp in Mongolia. The backcountry film festival, making its way to different Wyoming towns, celebrates human-powered winter recreation.(Photo courtesy Jim Harris – click to enlarge).

Backcountry Film Festival features two Wyoming filmmakers

Kelsey Dayton

— January 21, 2014

The alarm goes off sometime between 5 and 6 a.m. several times a week, as it has for more than 10 winters. Danny Beasse awakes and gathers his gear and then drives to Teton Pass. He hikes more than 1,000 vertical feet, lungs burning, breath huffing, before many in the town below are yet awake. He floats through the powder on his skis and is home in time to change, and grab a cup of coffee before heading to work at Carney Logan Burke in Jackson where he’s an architect.

It’s called dawn patrol, and it is the subject of a film by Jackson resident Chris Dickey called “Morning Rituals” It is one of two films by Wyoming filmmakers that are part of this year’s Backcountry Film Festival, which is making its way across Wyoming, having already played in Jackson. The festival is in Laramie tomorrow.

The Backcountry Film Festival is put on by the Winter Wildlands Alliance in an effort to celebrate human-powered winter recreation. It’s in its ninth season and has grown to screen in 120 places around the world. This year it will show in five Wyoming towns from Jackson to Gillette.

The film festival is growing in popularity, and it continues to receive more submissions each year, said Shelley Pursell of Winter Wildlands. This year the festival received more than 100 submissions. Ten were chosen, including the two by Wyoming residents.

“Morning Rituals” is meant to offer a glimpse into the mountain-loving culture in Jackson, featuring those  who meet on Teton Pass before heading to office jobs to make sure no matter what else happens that day, they get in some skiing, Beasse said.

The other film submitted by a Wyoming resident is “Nokhoi Zeekh: In search of the Wolverine,” from filmmaker Forrest McCarthy. McCarthy’s movie documents a month-long ski expedition through northern Mongolia, looking for signs of wolverines.

 Forrest McCarthy leans down to examine a fresh set of wolverine tracks. (photo courtesy Jim Harris – click to enlarge)

There were rumors of wolverines in Mongolia – pelts were showing up in markets – but no one had researched the elusive animals in the area, McCarthy said. In a National Geographic-funded project McCarthy and other biologists set out to ski across a portion of the country hoping to learn more about the animals. They found more than 30 DNA samples and regularly spotted tracks. McCarthy filmed the trip, thinking he’d post something online. When he returned he decided to turn his footage into a short documentary. McCarthy, who worked for Winter Wildlands Alliance, knew the film was a perfect fit for the festival.

“The festival (offers) something really different than your average ski porn,” he said. “It’s about celebrating the wildness of the winter landscape and how we interact with it.”

The Wyoming screenings are fundraisers for the Wyoming Wilderness Association. The organizations that host the film festival keep 100 percent of the revenue, Pursell said.

In addition to benefiting the Wyoming Wilderness Association, the festival serves another important purpose.

“The films celebrate the human powered experience,” said Sarah Walker of the Wyoming Wilderness Association. The organization’s goal is to get people out on public lands and the films celebrate different ways it’s done.

This year’s festival line-up is especially diverse. One of Pursell’s favorite films in the festival is by Corey Rich, called “Youth,” about backcountry skiing as a family. The film demonstrates that it’s doable to get the kids out in the backcountry instead of just resort skiing, Pursell said.

Forrest McCarthy skis in Mongolia while searching for signs of wolverine. You can learn about McCarthy’s expedition and celebrate other winter endeavors at the Backcountry Film Festival. (Photo courtesy Jim Harris – click to enlarge)
Forrest McCarthy skis in Mongolia while searching for signs of wolverine. You can learn about McCarthy’s expedition and celebrate other winter endeavors at the Backcountry Film Festival. (Photo courtesy Jim Harris – click to enlarge)

Luc Mehl’s film, “Bigger, Braver,” follows a woman big-mountain skier who talks about the pressure she feels to make sure she can pull her weight and keep up on trips – a universal worry for many backcountry athletes, Pursell said.

The lineup also includes “Bolton Valley” which was named the festival’s best conservation film. It tells the story of a small town fighting to save its ski area. “Strong” captures a man moving forward after a tragic avalanche. “Trail Break” is a black-and-white portrait of deep powder skiing.

The Best of Festival is “Valhalla” which is the story of a man on a quest to rediscover the freedom of his youth.

Upcoming screenings:

  • Laramie: 6:30 p.m. doors open, 7 p.m. show, Jan. 22, $5 suggested donation
  • Lander: 6 p.m. doors open, 7 p.m. show, Jan. 29, Coalter Loft at the Lander Bar, $7
  • Gillette: 6 p.m., Feb. 6, Gillette Brewing Company, Free
  • Buffalo: 5:30 p.m. doors open with potluck dinner, 6 p.m. show, Feb. 7, $5 admission

— “Peaks to Plains” is a blog focusing on Wyoming’s outdoors and communities. Kelsey Dayton is a freelance writer based in Lander. She has been a journalist in Wyoming for seven years, reporting for the Jackson Hole News & Guide, Casper Star-Tribune and the Gillette News-Record. Contact Kelsey at kelsey.dayton@gmail.com. Follow her on twitter: @Kelsey_Dayton

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Kelsey Dayton

Kelsey Dayton is a freelancer and the editor of Outdoors Unlimited, the magazine of the Outdoor Writers Association of America. She has worked as a reporter for the Gillette News-Record, Jackson Hole News&Guide...

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