SHERIDAN — The Wyoming tour of the 2020 Backcountry Film Festival began in Sheridan Saturday, and will be shown around the state until it concludes in Jackson March 20. The 15th annual festival will be shown in more than 110 cities in the U.S. between November 2019 and May 2020.
For two of the festival’s filmmakers, western Wyoming was the training ground that prepared them for a regional trek, following in the footsteps of intrepid trailblazer John Colter.
Riis Wilbrecht and Sawyer Thomas were raised around stories about Colter, who departed from the Lewis and Clark expedition to explore the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and would spend eight months over the winter crossing rivers and mountains.
But it wasn’t until the duo started investigating Colter’s story that they began to respect the monument of what he accomplished and decided to follow his footsteps through snow, muck and mud.
Wilbrecht and Thomas experienced their first taste of the months-long adventure with a seven-day winter camping trip traversing some of the most intimidating and best ski terrain in the lower 48 — completing part of Colter’s path.
That experience lent new meaning to the word exhaustion, Thomas and Wilbrecht said in the film. The next year, they decided to take on the whole route, running, biking and skiing through harsh conditions and terrain.
By sharing their adventure with the public through “Colter: A Legacy of Adventure,” Thomas said he hopes people gain respect for the history of wild places and their value today.
“The more we can inspire people through it, the better,” Thomas said.
Wyoming Wilderness Association marketing and outreach director Heidi Davidson said films in the BCFF provide an opportunity to “celebrate human-powered winter sports” and recognize the responsibility individuals have to be stewards of public, wild spaces. Showing films from the festival encourages conversation about recreation, sustainability and human interaction with land each year, she said.
“The short films featured in BCFF are a great reminder of how fortunate we are to have some wild backcountry,” Davidson said in an email to The Sheridan Press.
Film is a powerful medium to share stories with a wide audience, especially through a festival that showcases adventures in some of the world’s most uniquely wild spaces, Davidson said.
Beyond the visual spectacle of the film, Wilbrecht said he hopes viewers appreciate the value of planning, pursuing and completing their own adventures.
Throughout the film/trek project, Wilbrecht said he learned that in the mountains, one should always be prepared for more challenges than anticipated. Overall, the project reminded Wilbrecht of what he loves about exploring wild spaces, he said.
But things don’t always go as planned. One day during the project, Thomas said they planned to run 20 miles and expected dry conditions. But when conditions changed, a four-hour day turned into a 14-hour day.
“Almost every single aspect of the run was complicated, just because of road closures and having to access particular areas,” Wilbrecht said. “Going out to the wilderness, every single time you do it, you’re going to run into some sort of problem and you’re going to have to fight your way out a little bit.”
Wilbrecht said combining rich, outdoor experiences with film adds a creative freedom to the experience — a way to build a portrait of the story that can be shared with others. Despite having filmed together for years in the backcountry, Thomas and Wilbrecht said this experience pushed them beyond what they’d undertaken before.
Colter’s story is an inspirational one about exploration and perseverance that could have been a film on its own, Thomas said. Their goal with the project was to highlight the landscape and capture an image of what can’t be found elsewhere.
“Hopefully people get a sense for why we value places like this and why we value our wild places,” Thomas said.