Adventure Time: The Wasatch Mountain Film Festival

Posted March 30, 2015 in
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Seeing the absolute pinnacle of adventure can be downright inspiring. Photo: Cut Media
While browsing among the latest outdoor recreational gear at this year’s Adventure+Gear Fest is enough to get the blood pumping, it takes a bit more to become truly inspired. With that in mind, local outdoorsman and film enthusiast Stuart Derman has partnered with Wasatch Mountain Arts to create the first annual Wasatch Mountain Film Festival. The festival features submissions from all over the world, each of which explores the beauty and grandeur of the outdoors in its own specific way. Derman managed to take some time out of his busy schedule to chat with SLUG about the upcoming festival and the rapidly evolving world of handheld documentary filmmaking.
SLUG: How did you originally get involved with Wasatch Mountain Arts and the film festival?
Derman: I’m originally from New Jersey. I came out here to go to the University of Utah—I’ve always loved the mountains. I came out here originally to be a part of the Parks, Recreation and Tourism Department at the U. When I came out here, I realized that we have this amazing mountain culture. It’s a really unique place. As far as expos go, however, we bring in a lot of outside events that promote places like Telluride and Banff—and they’re amazing organizations that do a great job—but I wanted to create something not only for the people here, but by the people here; something that we can call our own. We wanted to be a central hub for that tribe in the Wasatch.
SLUG: Organizing a first-year film festival sounds like a lot of work. How did you get the festival off the ground?
Derman: Starting any new event comes with a ton of challenges, but Shane Baldwin and I have been working on this for over a year now.  The biggest issue was finding the funding, so we’re really excited to be partnering with the Adventure+Gear [Fest]. They had been bringing in the Telluride Mountain Film Festival to run the film festival portion of their event over the last two years. They had been looking for some locals to take over, so it worked out as a perfect opportunity for both of us.
SLUG: What were your guidelines for selecting this year’s films?
Derman: We had a unique challenge this year because it was our first event. We had a lot of incredible submissions that did not meet our time constraints. There were a lot of great, feature-length films that we wanted to show but weren’t able to. We’re definitely going to be considering them for future events, though. Because we had that limited time scale, we wanted to keep the films somewhat similar to one another. The films have an action-packed, adventure feel to them, and [they] show people going out into the wilderness and doing some crazy things—like jumping off of cliffs with parachutes and skis like The Unrideables. It’s everything that you ever wanted out of a James Bond film as a child—but in real life! Eventually, I want to grow this into something with more categories. We want to have environmental and social-impact films so we can use this as an opportunity to see not only those doing the craziest stunts, but also to showcase films that are leaving a social and environmental impact.
SLUG: I’ve noticed that this year’s films are exclusively documentaries. Would you be up for accepting non-documentary films for future festivals?
Derman: Absolutely. We want to eventually make this into a week-long event that takes place at theaters across the valley. We have a lot of incredible, cinematic films, but there are also a lot of new and amazing films coming out from people who don’t have huge budgets. There’s a lot of stuff being filmed on GoPro and Contour, and a lot of people producing their own really cool films. Eventually, I want to incorporate an amateur component in the festival, and we want to give those people a platform as well.
SLUG: Speaking of GoPro and Contour, how do you think the ease of access to portable, POV cameras has changed the landscape of documentary filmmaking?
Derman: I think it’s been a very good thing because it’s giving filmmakers more access. It’s allowing the person who doesn’t have name recognition to go out there and share their story with people. It used to be that, on a Warren Miller–type documentary, you had to be a professional with a bunch of different sponsors, but now it’s a lot easier to film and share your experiences. When you see a film from the point of view of the skiiers, it allows you to get into their head for a split second.
SLUG: I understand that you’re in the early stages of taking the Wasatch Mountain Film Festival on tour throughout the country.
Derman: We are in the very early stages of that, so I can’t announce any dates or anything, but we definitely want to share this with the world. Our organization is about using the Wasatch Front as a medium for inspiring the rest of the world. We live in a very inspiring place, and we want to use that as a medium. The idea of sharing these films with the world along with our own vision is a cool feeling. We want to bring that sense of adventure and exploration to those people who don’t get to experience nature as much—people stuck in cities or who just don’t have the opportunity to get out as much as they’d like.
You can check out the Wasatch Mountain Film Festival as part of the Adventure+Gear Fest that will be taking place at the South Towne Expo Center from April 17–18.