This month, the Front Range hosts three adventure-documentary festivals: Reel Rock Fest, Adventure Film Festival, and Radical Reels. Those, however, are just a small part of Colorado’s canon. Here, the major milestones in the Centennial State’s thrill-inducing outdoor-film history.
1943 Filmmaker John Jay contributed to the war effort by making promotional movies for the 10th Mountain Division. About 75,000 people saw Jay’s Ski Patrol, which led to an influx of recruits at Camp Hale near Leadville.
1957 Director Warren Miller (pictured), the godfather of ski porn, first focused his lens on Colorado by shooting Anyone For Skiing? in Aspen. In 1991, Miller’s son relocated the family production company from California to Boulder, where it’s still based.
1979 The premiere of the Telluride Mountainfilm festival consisted of mountaineers screening movies inside the Sheridan Opera House. Now held Memorial Day weekend, Mountainfilm might be the most respected adventure-film festival in the country and draws more than 4,000 attendees annually.
1993 Although a (terrible) work of fiction, Aspen Extreme featured some awesome action shots—remember those sweet figure eights?—filmed at Aspen Highlands.
2001 Boulder’s Sender Films released its first doc, Scary Faces, about climbing in Eldorado Canyon. In partnership with BigUp Productions, the company made the revered King Lines (2007). Sender Films also co-produces the Reel Rock Film Tour, which will hit nearly 500 cities this year.
2005 Filmmaker Michael Brown followed blind Coloradan Erik Weihenmayer to the summit of Mt. Everest in 2001. The resulting documentary, Farther Than The Eye Can See, won the Boulder International Film Festival’s first award for Best Adventure Film four years later.
2008 Founded by Julie Kennedy, April’s 5Point Adventure Film Festival in Carbondale has become a favorite of young filmmakers looking to go beyond action shots to tell well-rounded, emotional stories.
2013 McConkey, a biopic about skier Shane McConkey made by Crested Butte’s Matchstick Productions, boasted amazing aeronautics. But the film stood out because it covered the cost of McConkey’s addiction to thrilling feats: He died in 2009 while BASE jumping.
2016 This year’s Reel Rock Fest (September 15 to 19) features the Reel Rock Film Tour, competitions, and classes in Denver with athletes such as 15-year-old wunderkind Ashima Shiraishi (pictured). The Adventure Film Festival plays at the Boulder Theater (September 29 to October 1); Radical Reels (September 30 to October 1) stops at the American Mountaineering Center in Golden.
—Photos courtesy of (from top): Denver Public Library, Alamy, Luis Benitez, Brett Lowell