Adventure Reel program brings adrenaline to celluloid at Breck Film Fest Sept. 19 | SummitDaily.com

Adventure Reel program brings adrenaline to celluloid at Breck Film Fest Sept. 19

A sunset photo shoot with pro skiers at Whistler in British Columbia, one of several sports dissected in the Breck Film Fest selection "The Search for Freedom." The film screens at 6 p.m. on Sept. 19 at the Riverwalk Center in Breckenridge.
ITM Film / Special to the Daily |

Adventure Reel at the Breck Film Fest

The Adventure Reel program screens during three separate showings on Sept. 19. The 10 Films range from 5 to 90 minutes and cover a slew of topics, from skiing and paragliding to musings on extreme sports. All screenings are held at the Riverwalk Center in Breckenridge and cost $10 per showing or $25 for the entire program. For more info, see www.breckfilmfest.com.

Screening One — 3 p.m.

“River of Eden,” 17 min.

“A Deliberate Life,” 33 min.

“The Rocky Mountain Traverse,” 53 min.

“Nature Rx,” 4 min. (interspersed)

Screening Two — 6 p.m.

“Pushing the Envelope,” 6:30 min.

“The Search for Freedom,” 94 min.

Screening Three — 9 p.m.

“Afterglow,” 11 min.

“Sugar Mountain,” 45 min.

“The Frozen Titans,” 52 min.

The extreme sports world is much bigger and bolder than it was even 15 years ago.

Just ask Jon Long, a veteran filmmaker who first started capturing skiers on camera in the late ‘80s, back when Warren Miller had a monopoly on death-defying sport stunts and antics. Long soon branched out to other action sports in the ‘90s — surfing, skateboarding and rock climbing — before filming his first major release, “Extreme.”

Shot on 70 mm film for IMAX, “Extreme” was an early snapshot of Long’s work with athletes on the fringe: ice climbers, big-wave surfers, backcountry snowboarders and the like. It was released in 1999 and still plays today — a testament to just how popular these niche sports have become.

“In the earlier years, there was only a handful of people making those annual ski movies and snowboard movies,” Long said. “It was a much different landscape for filmmakers than it is now, when you have so many different ways to make a film. These days, anyone armed with a GoPro can have their adventure seen. It’s been fascinating to talk with the pioneers, the people who forged the way long before this happened, people like Warren Miller or Bruce Brown, who made ‘The Endless Summer.’”

The Internet and affordable equipment has changed the game, but, as any up-and-coming athlete or filmmaker can attest, the right kind of exposure is still half the battle. On Sept. 19 from 3-11 p.m., the Breck Film Fest hosts three separate screenings as part of the main Adventure Reel program, the festival’s ode to all things offbeat and outdoorsy and just plain insane. The films range from mini-documentaries on kayaking and paragliding to Long’s most recent full-length film, “The Search for Freedom,” a look at the extreme sports lifestyle and athletes who make a living defying death.

The main Saturday program is just a small slice of the overall Adventure Reel series. It’s now spread over four nights and includes the festival’s opening and closing films, “Snowman” (original screening on Sept. 17 and likely part of the Sept. 20 Best of Fest program) and “Being Evel,” the festival finale about Evel Knievel’s legacy (screening at 7 p.m. on Sept. 20 in the Riverwalk Center).

Fringe and extreme sports may be more mainstream and accessible than ever before, but professional filmmakers like Long are still convinced that a film fest is the best outlet for thoughtful, eclectic documentaries and shorts — films in the vein of “The Endless Summer” and Miller’s filmography.

“Those early filmmakers were showing audiences something new and exciting,” Long said. “You had people who saw these films and wanted to get involved. It went from a fringe activity to a way of life for some people, and that’s still happening.”

“The Rocky Mountain Traverse” — 3 p.m.

In 2014, two pro paragliders set their sights on a trip no one had ever made before: Traverse a major swath of the Canadian Rocky Mountains with nothing but backpacks, bivy sacks and paraglide wings. The feat was daunting enough, but with a bit of encouragement from the Red Bull documentary team, it became certifiably insane. To make the cut — and secure funding — paragliders Gavin McClurg and Will Badd had to cover 700 kilometers (roughly 400 miles) high above barren, isolated terrain, including a flight over the tallest mountain in the range, Mount Robson at 12,972 feet.

“Red Bull, because it’s Red Bull, wanted this to be a record,” McClurg said. “They wanted us to go as far as we can, and they wanted it to be super remote. That line had never been done before and it hasn’t been done since.”

Red Bull captured the 18-day journey on film for the recently released documentary, “The Rocky Mountain Traverse.” The film’s sponsor wanted remote terrain and stunning scenery, but McClurg and Badd wanted to add an additional twist, the sort to make even fellow pros watch in awe. Unlike the Red Bull X-Alps race — a 10-day paragliding-hiking tour over 1,100 kilometers (680 miles) in the European Alps — the duo could only complete the traverse by flying, with no hiking or motorized travel from locale to locale.

It was easier said than done, due in large part to Mother Nature. The area was ravaged by wildfires and constant thunderstorms that summer, both of which pinned down McClurg and Badd for days at a time in secluded regions.

“It’s a real niche sport in what is already a very niche sport,” McClurg said of paraglide traverses. “You’re flying and camping, carrying everything you need to survive in your pack. The first day was perfect. … But after that, the flying was rough. We had quite a few down days, pinned down in thunderstorms and everything else.”

Red Bull caught the entire journey on camera, from that pristine first day outside of McBride, British Columbia to the Mount Robson fly-over to the final day on the U.S.-Canadian border. All told, the trip took 35 days, with 18 days of flying and 17 days of waiting for safe conditions.

Through it all, McClurg kept a level head. He’s a former professional sailor and kite surfer who only picked up paragliding in 2006 — even though friends warned him about the dangers.

“You have to be a little but crazy to do this,” McClurg said. “To advance fast, you have to take chances and push things hard. That suited me. I got through the early years, the dangerous years, with more luck than skill, I think. Now I actually know what I’m doing.”

“The Search for Freedom” — 6 p.m.

After filming and following action sports for most of his career, Long wanted to know more about the inner workings of seemingly crazy athletes like Tony Hawk and Danny Way and Kelly Slater. And it all started with California surf culture in the ‘50s, when a small band of pioneers started pushing the sport’s boundaries.

“It follows the evolution from there to show how the action-sport lifestyle has become such a part of our culture,” Long said. “These days, it’s so evident everywhere, especially in the last 10 years with the digital revolution. That’s created an opportunity for almost anyone to become a filmmaker.”

The film features interviews with 25 athletes, filmmakers and sport icons, beginning with now-global sports like skateboarding and snowboarding before transitioning to figures like Glenn Singleman, an ER doctor who moonlights as a B.A.S.E. jumper. Singleman talks in very scientific terms about a genetic marker shared by extreme-sports athletes, a seemingly inevitable trait that makes otherwise dangerous activities sound enticing.

The interviews and analysis are paired with stunning sequences of extreme sports — eye-candy lovers won’t be disappointed — all leading to a thesis statement on action sports, for athletes, by athletes.

“The concept of freedom kept coming up over and over,” Long said. “It was an evolution story to start with, but with a story like that you want to ask why, and that word or feeling of ‘freedom’ really became a central theme.”


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