A person on a bicycle is suspended in air at dusk against rolling dunes as roughly half a dozen air balloons float in the background
Follow the Light (2021) is one of the films featured in this year's Banff Centre Mountain Film Festival World Tour, coming to the Boulder Theater Feb 28–March 2. Credit: Dir. Pierre Henni

When the lights go down at the Boulder Theater during the Banff Centre Mountain Film Festival, viewers can expect an outdoors-themed visual experience as grand as the Rockies. 

The short films featured on the Colorado stop of the world tour from the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity will take audiences on a breathtaking and reflective exploration of remote landscapes, mountain cultures and high-octane adventure sports. The three-day event feels tailor made for a place like Boulder, where the outdoors are an integral part of  life for many. 

That’s why the Access Fund began partnering with the tour in 2012 to bring this mountain-scaled cinematic experience to their own backyard. In addition to providing the community an event aligned with its interests and values, the Boulder-based nonprofit recoups nearly 100% of ticket sales to help further its mission to keep open and protect climbing environments throughout the United States.  

“The goal here is twofold: number one, of course, is to fundraise for our mission. But in addition to that, it’s about bringing the climbing, conservation, adventure and outdoor communities all together,” said Heather Distad, director of philanthropy at the Access Fund.

Facilitating this coming together of different allied groups is a core part of the Access Fund’s mission. “Our projects bring in all the different players within a particular landscape: Native tribes, Indigenous people, ranchers, private landowners and other recreational groups,” Distad said. “We all work together to ensure these places are protected, and to educate the public on what it means to take care of those places.” 

Stewardship and Cinema

In addition to mobilizing support around local environmental issues, the Access Fund executes its mission through policy and advocacy, education, land acquisition and protection, stewardship and conservation, risk management and landowner support. Recent projects include the purchase of a new bouldering area in the Shawnee National Forest of southern Illinois, and the awarding of a $15,000 grant to fix aging climbing bolts across the country through its Anchor Replacement Fund.   

The nonprofit’s work makes it a natural partner for the Banff World Tour, which is one of the oldest mountain film festivals in the world, with the largest global reach. The 2021/2022 festival will travel to 550 communities across more than 40 countries. That’s a huge leap from its origins as a three-city Canadian tour in 1976.

While the scale of the festival has changed, its mission remains simple. 

“The Banff World Tour celebrates amazing achievements in outdoor storytelling and filmmaking worldwide,” coordinator Seana Strain wrote in an email to the Boulder Reporting Lab. “Traveling to remote vistas, analyzing topical environmental issues and bringing audiences up-close and personal with adrenaline-packed action sports, [it] is an exhilarating and provocative exploration of the mountain world.”

For Distad and the Access Fund, that sense of exhilaration is a crucial first step to helping people form meaningful and lasting connections with the environment. “Audiences walk away so stoked to get outside and live life — to get out from behind the desk and go adventure, and to also take care of these places,” she said. “We really want to tie in that message: Adventure is cool. Adventure is even cooler when you take care of the places you explore.”

Tickets to the 2022 Banff Centre Mountain Film Festival World Tour, coming to Boulder Feb. 28–March 2, are on sale now. Proof of vaccination is required for entry.

Archived work by Jezy Grazy for Boulder Reporting Lab.