According to a survey REI conducted earlier this year, 63 percent of women could not think of a female outdoor role model. The questionnaire also found that six out of every ten women believed men’s interest in outdoor activities are taken more seriously than women’s. Aisha Weinhold and the team behind No Man’s Land Film Festival (NMLFF), the country’s only female-focused adventure film festival, are changing that.
“No Man’s Land is a space where a stereotyped minority champions a mogul,” says Weinhold, NMLFF’s founder and director. She established NMLFF in 2014, long before REI’s survey results instigated the company’s Force of Nature campaign to rectify gender imbalance in the outdoors. Growing up in the Roaring Fork Valley, living and breathing the winter’s snow-powdered slopes and summer’s lush aspen groves, Weinhold experienced first-hand the absence of female adventure role models.
“Women crushing boundaries on the big screen—that never happens,” she says. For decades the outdoor industry’s premier film festivals, ones like 5Point Film Festival or Telluride Mountainfilm, have traditionally starred male athletes in the vast majority of films. Weinhold knew women deserve that same space and recognition, too.
The idea behind NMLFF started out simply: gather and curate a selection of films that highlight “women with grit, audacity, determination, and boundless passion, investing them with the respect, support, and media recognition they deserve.” Then, as Weinhold’s vision grew, she added emphasis to bringing the collection around the world to discuss and build upon female empowerment beyond the screen.
Over the flagship festival’s four days, happening between September 14 and 17, dozens of women—climbers, skiers, dancers, skaters, swimmers, surfers, fishers, runners—will congregate under Mt. Sopris’ snow-capped peak in Carbondale. Forty-five films will play, ranging from minute-long action-packed snapshots to ten-minute-long philosophical or triumphant storylines. In between screenings, NMLFF will moderate a “pitchfest” in which female filmmakers and athletes can pitch ideas to a panel of judges. And a host of professional female athletes, artists, and environmental advocates will conduct workshops, panels, and discussions about the outdoor industry. Men, of course, are welcome and encouraged to attend.
“This change [to adventure film’s status quo] will leave you feeling like anything is possible,” Weinhold says. And even if you don’t shred the gnar or take massive whippers while try-hard rock climbing, “all outdoor films have a distilled message that transcends the sport. Commitment, trying something new, pushing through challenges, and listening to your inner voice—these are all messages that these films portray.”
Since the festival’s inception in 2014, success has mounted quickly and expanded around the world. During the first year of operation, NMLFF sold out every screening. The following year, they grew the tour by nearly a dozen states and launched a program in Canada. This year, the audience and demand continues to grow. “No Man’s Land strives to implement and inspire change in the outdoor industry, while cultivating a deep interest in exploring the vastness of our planet from a female point of view.”
If viewers glean one message from the festival, Weinhold hopes this is it: “Being a woman means that you can do anything. Everything. Because if a woman can clip chains on a 5.10, I’ll bet that she can also change her own flat tire, and manage a Fortune 500 Company.”
If you go: No Man’s Land Film Festival takes place Thursday, Sept. 14 from 9 a.m.–9 p.m.; Friday, Sept. 15 from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Saturday, Sept. 16 from 9 a.m.–11 p.m.; and Sunday, Sept. 17 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. All events are held at varying locations in downtown Carbondale, and tickets can be purchased online for individual screenings, workshops, or events, or an entire weekend package.