Hail the outdoor and adventure filmmakers among us! Hail their personal sacrifice, their bravery, their persistence and their passion! Through their exquisite visual storytelling, they build a portal that transports our imaginations to scenic places to experience activities we would not typically encounter, and introduce us to people we would not otherwise meet. Their films make us think, help us feel, and sometimes, lead us to personal revelation.
Film: Mayan Blue
"I guess I've always been interested in writing and film," remarks Dalton native Hamilton Craig. "I've always loved movies - especially comedies. When I was a kid, I made stupid videos with one of those giant VHS camcorders. And I've long admired the works of the Coen brothers, who wrote, directed and produced movies like No Country for Old Men and Fargo."
After studying journalism at Alabama for a while, Craig eventually transferred to the Savannah College of Art and Design, and in 2005 graduated with a BFA in Film and Television. Today, Craig is both a producer and film writer at Standoff Studios, an independent production studio based in Athens. His producing contributions can be seen on the reality show The Catch: Costa Rica and the documentary Letters from Banaz. His writing credits include the animated Cole Petticoat P.I., several short films, commercial spots and Mayan Blue.
"Mayan Blue is a 78-minute documentary film that follows the archeological survey and mapping of a lost Mayan city hidden deep beneath the deep waters of Lake Atitlan in Guatemala," he says. "The underwater site of Samabaj has lain dormant since its catastrophic flooding some 2000 years ago. I co-wrote Mayan Blue with Raphael Garcia, and I helped produce it."
The scale of the production was immense - an epic collaboration of world renowned archeologists, historians and elite dive specialists joining forces with the film and production crew. As co-writer of the documentary, Craig was faced with the challenge of sculpting an exciting, compelling story from a task-oriented, scientific expedition. As co-producer, he scoured the earth in search of stock and archival footage to fully complement the story. The resulting film is a symphony for the eyes.
"I was onsite during one of the two filming seasons and it was a life-changing experience for me," Craig says. "The winding, twisting roads, the surrounding mountains and volcanoes, the deep blue waters, the colorful temples - the Mayan world is one of the cultural centers of the ancient world. It is a storyteller's dream."
Films: 23 Feet, MoveShake (a series)
Alexandria Bombach says that her passion for visual storytelling developed when she was 13. "That's when I bought my first video camera with $500 that I had saved over the course of a year," she says. "After that, I was hooked."
Today, Bombach is a freelance videographer who uses film to tell the stories of individuals who pursue their passions in the outdoors and who dedicate themselves to environmental and social issues.
"23 Feet is about people who make the conscious choice to live simply to do what they love in the great outdoors," Bombach explains. "We [Bombach, Greer Glass and Lisa Montierth] just packed up and left. We set off across the west pulling a 23-foot, 1970 Airstream trailer behind our truck to search for these people and tell their stories." Her film features the powerful stories of an eccentric few - a twenty-something snowboarder who lives out of a van, a river guide who lives in a 25-foot school bus, a surfer who moonlights as a registered nurse, a videographer who lives off the grid near Moab, Utah, and others.
"We kept the camera going - even when disaster struck," she says. "At one point, the truck overheated and we had to get the truck and Airstream towed into Yosemite. The three of us were feeling pretty low." But in a fortunate stroke of serendipity, Bombach and her entourage found themselves camping next to legendary Yosemite climber Ron Kauk, who gifted them with oatmeal and profound commentary on simple living and the art of identifying what's sacred and what's necessary for survival.
From 100 hours of footage, Bombach plucked and patched 30 minutes of shots and interviews to create her poignant documentary. 23 Feet will be featured at the Lookout Wild Film Festival.
"I love Chattanooga," she says. "I filmed triathlons and climbing events there and started Red Reel while I lived there." Bombach's film production company, Red Reel, works with outdoor industry companies as well as select nonprofit organizations to create commercial branding and documentary features. Her clients include big names such as Osprey Packs, Horny Toad, Clif Bar and the Conservation Alliance.
"Filmmaking is a 7-days-a week, 16-hours-a-day, kind of job," she says. "But I find it immensely gratifying."
Film: A Leg to Fly On
As a young man, Lucas Ridley enjoyed the endless outdoor opportunities surrounding Chattanooga. He climbed the vertical cliff faces lining the Sequatchie Valley and the Cumberland Plateau. He launched himself into the wild blue yonder from the rocky edge of the Lookout Mountain Flight Park. And when he needed a way to share his passions and experiences with others, he turned to filmmaking.
His five-minute film, A Leg to Fly On, will be featured at the Lookout Wild Film Festival this month. "It's a short inspirational film that I literally threw together after shooting footage for only one day," says Ridley. "It's a documentary that profiles Tip Rogers, a man who hang glides despite the fact that he lost one of his legs several years ago."
The film braids together informal interview segments with Rogers and stunning footage of his launching, his flying, his floating - his freedom. Lucas shot the film on a Canon HF100 - some of it using the JagPro dof adapter with a Nikon 50mm f/1.8 lens. He used Magic Bullet Looks with After Effects to color grade and Premiere Pro and Sony Vegas to cut and add music.
"I used two cameras; two angles. And Tip launched one time," he says. "That's the great challenge of filming adventure sports and documentaries - stuff happens once, and if you miss it, you miss it. There's no duplicating it."
Today, Ridley's filmmaking reaches into realms far beyond extreme sports documentaries. After falling in love with animation, he completed the highly reputable Vancouver Film School's 3D Animation and Visual Effects program. He currently works as an animator at Moonbot Studios, whose film, The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore was awarded an Oscar for Best Animated Short Film in the 84th Academy Awards.
"But I'll never put my camera down," he says. "I'm obsessed with skydiving now and I want to eventually try wingsuit BASE jumping. I need 200 jumps total. And yes, I'm sure that it will seep into my filmmaking."
Film: The Waters of Greenstone
In December 2009, Taylor Kirkpatrick and friend Hardwick Caldwell pooled their savings, bought a camera and plane tickets, and set off to pursue a childhood dream. The two traveled to the far reaches of New Zealand, embarked on an epic fly-fishing expedition, and moreover, captured their experience on film.
"People thought we were crazy," describes Kirkpatrick. "It was really our first film endeavor, but it was something that we felt strongly about doing." The result is The Waters of Greenstone - 62 minutes of cinematic bliss as Kirkpatrick and Hardwick face the mental and physical challenges of navigating rolling green hills and snow-laden mountainscapes chasing a chance to hook the world's most elusive brown trout. The fly-fishing segments are simply mesmerizing.
"We didn't have a helicopter or a production crew, and we didn't use fishing guides," says Kirkpatrick. "It was just the two of us, our gear and our camera. We accepted the challenges head on in order to capture a more authentic experience for our audience."
Much of their time was spent planning and setting up shots. For example, the two had to hike to a vantage point, set up the camera, then go back and film themselves hiking in. "And then we had to go back for the equipment and hike out," he says. "We felt that we were doing everything two and three times, but that's what it took to tell our story."
Their efforts paid off. The film made it on to the prestigious Fly Fishing Film Tour in 2011, and Kirkpatrick later licensed it out to a premier outdoor sports television network. Along the way, he founded Gambit Stone, a production company specializing in adventure media and expedition films.
Kirkpatrick credits Chattanooga for shaping his future saying the region fostered a creative and entrepreneurial spirit that drives him to conceive ideas and follow through with a myriad of projects.
"And growing up in Chattanooga molded me into the outdoorsman I am today," he says. "My grandfather [Buck Rudisill] taught me to hunt and fish there. I learned to fish at Blue Springs when I was three, and when I was older, I fell in love with fly fishing standing knee-deep in the waters of the Hiwassee and South Holston rivers."