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5Point Film Fest: Adventure with a mission

Stewart Oksenhorn
Aspen Times Weekly
Aspen, CO Colorado
Tyler Bradt"The African Revolutions Tour," by Rush Sturges and Tyler Bradt, shows at the 5Point Film Festival, opening this week in Carbondale.
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CARBONDALE ” In founding the 5Point Film Festival in Carbondale, Julie Kennedy was adamant that the event would celebrate something deeper than heart-pumping video footage. A mother and a former publisher of Climbing magazine as well as an athlete, Kennedy sought to convey messages of community, commitment and respect, and to foster bonds between her generation of outdoorsmen and the younger set of adventurers.

The event hasn’t even turned a year old yet ” the second 5Point Festival is set for Thursday through Sunday, May 7-10 in Carbondale ” but Kennedy has already demonstrated vividly her intentions for the festival. Among those attending last year’s inaugural gathering was Rush Sturges, a filmmaker in his mid-20s whom Kennedy has known since Sturges was a preteen. Sturges’ family owns Otter Bay Lodge, a kayaking school on the Salmon River in northwestern California; as a kid, Rush began a business making videos of the guests. He has become perhaps the most noted cinematographer specializing in kayaking films. His “Source” was featured at last year’s 5Point; the film’s highlight was footage of kayaker Tyler Bradt descending a 107-foot waterfall, the biggest kayak drop ever made. Still, Kennedy thought that Sturges was missing the point.

“Rush and Tyler, at this point in the game, are just kayak porn-makers. Just flipping and flopping,” said Kennedy ” a reference to the idea that the film focused on visual stimulation but lacked a more meaningful context. “The best kayak porn, high-packed action kayak films, but pretty narrow. Only kayakers would want to see their films.

“I had a discussion with him. I told him, You’re filming is so good. But no sponsor will invest in that. I said you’ve got to thread a humanitarian element into your film ” being green, social change. That’s what will interest a big client. And the audience.

“He said, ‘OK, OK.’ It was resonating. He knew he was at a dead end.”

Sturges returns to Carbondale this year a different kind of filmmaker, with a different breed of film. “The African Revolutions Tour,” directed by Sturges and Bradt, still revolves around kayaking ” this time in Africa. There are still thrills, as they make their way through crocodile-filled rivers in Uganda, and drop down falls in Madagascar.

But just as significant in the film is the Sun Catchers Project. The initiative, launched by Sturges and his girlfriend, provides solar ovens to communities in developing countries in Africa, and teaches people how to cook with the sun-powered appliances. Sun Catchers not only gives a tool for people to feed themselves, but a way to preserve the environment ” the sun’s heat replaces timber as a fuel source.

At the same time that Kennedy was spreading the environmental and philanthropic messages, she was also pushing a filmmaker to new creative heights. When Sturges began what would become “The African Revolutions Tour,” Kennedy said, he was struggling to find a new voice.

“He called me up and said, ‘How do I integrate the social consciousness side with the kayaking?'” said Kennedy. “He was almost ready to give up and say, ‘I’m just a porn guy.’

“I told him to stay in there. Anything in life ” you have to dig. You have to get out of your box.”

Sturges had been booked to show his Africa film at the high-profile X-Dance festival in Utah; he pulled out in favor of a head-clearing kayak trip in Chile. Upon his return, he got busy editing the Africa footage. And when he finished, one of his first calls was to Kennedy.

“He said, ‘I nailed it. This is the best I’ve ever done,'” recalls Kennedy. “He spent endless hours editing, with no money. He could have easily bailed. It’s all coming from his heart.

“This is what the 5Point Festival is all about ” taking the next generation to push their expectations, their limits, beyond what they thought was possible.”

This year’s program is filled with stories similar to Sturges’s ” of adventurous spirits looking beyond their next thrill, and out into the bigger world. The keynote speakers are Conrad Anker and Jenni Lowe-Anker, renowned climbers and founders of the Khumbu Climbing School, which teaches Himalayan Sherpas safe climbing techniques.

Kevin Hand, who is part of a panel discussion titled Celebrating Our Common Spirit: Turning Desire Into Mission, is a NASA scientist specializing in the origins of life. He also started the Kenya-based Cosmos Foundation, which teaches science skills to children in orphanages and remote villages. Geoff Tabin, who joins Hand on the panel, was the fourth person to complete the Seven Summits, climbing the highest peaks on each continent. He also co-founded the Himalayan Cataract Project, which provides cataract surgery and training in cataract prevention. Brad Ludden, a third panelist, is an extreme kayaker from Vail who created First Descents, which uses outdoor adventures as therapy for young adults with cancer.

Among the films to be screened are “Portrait of a Serial Jumper,” about balancing caution and adventure; “The Fine Line,” that teaches responsible, safe use of the backcountry; “The Red Helmet,” an animated work about overcoming fear; and “Red Gold,” about threats to the salmon-rich rivers that flow into Alaska’s Bristol Bay.

There’s a paradox lurking in 5Point’s mission of uniting extreme athletes with global good deeds. Extreme sports tend to be individual pursuits ” one person determined to push his own limits. Indeed, such athletes make easy targets for charges of egotism run rampant. Establishing organizations to help the poor and ill seems to require a different set of abilities and intentions. But Kennedy sees a natural relation between the two visions.

“When you have an inward connection to yourself, you also have more depth and gratitude for every living thing. You have a greater sense of your responsibility to give back,” she said. “We are meant, as a species, to give back our gifts. That’s part of a full life ” to know your gifts and give them for the greater good.”

stewart@aspentimes.com


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