Colorado film festival honors founder killed in avalanche
November 11, 2009
DENVER – Jonny Copp, an avid mountaineer and founder of the Adventure Film Festival in Boulder, hoped to document an unprecedented ascent with two buddies up the east face of southwest China’s formidable Mount Edgar this spring.
But Copp, climbing partner Micah Dash and videographer Wade Johnson encountered rock falls at lower elevations and decided it was too risky. They were making one last trip from base camp to retrieve their gear when they were swept away by an avalanche that started thousands of feet above them, friends said. They were last heard from May 20 and perished despite the best efforts of Chinese and U.S. rescue teams.
On Friday, the Adventure Film Festival will honor the climbers with “First Ascent: Point of No Return,” a 30-minute film compiled from hundreds of hours of footage shot by Johnson before the slide on the 21,712-foot mountain.
Festival director Mark Reiner, a childhood friend of Copp’s who learned to rock climb with him, said “First Ascent” is tough for him to watch.
“It’s just hard to see your buddy alive and well when you know it’s not the case,” Reiner said.
Far from being a memorial event, the fifth annual Adventure Film Festival runs Thursday through Saturday with more than 30 films on extreme sports, the environment and humanitarian issues. Copp, 35, was passionate about the environment, photography, film and the outdoors – and the festival reflects that.
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“Our films aren’t just about people chucking themselves off a cliff,” Reiner said. “We inspire people to get out there, see the world and maybe make change.”
The footage of Copp, Dash, 32, also of Boulder, and Johnson, 24, of Arden Hills, Minn., originally was intended for “First Ascent,” a mountaineering series Boulder-based Sender Films was making for National Geographic Channels International.
Sender Films’ Nick Rosen and Peter Mortimer, part of the tight-knit climbing community, decided to go ahead with the China episode after talking to the climbers’ loved ones.
“It’s been the most stressful thing,” said Mortimer, who edited the film.
“The pressure has been unbearable. We’ve all kind of lost it over the last month, but I feel really good about the piece we’re showing. It really captured their spirit and love for the mountains.”
Johnson’s mother, Susan Johnson of Arden Hills, said seeing the film was a way to connect with what Wade experienced in the weeks before his death.
“When you love someone and their experiences are captured on film, it’s a treasure,” she said.
Johnson, Copp and Dash loved life and the outdoors but weren’t careless or foolish about it, Susan Johnson said.
“Because of what happened to Jonny, Micah and Wade, I wouldn’t want to suppress anyone else’s sense of adventure,” she said. “Obviously it’s a tragedy for their families and friends, but we can’t wrap our sons in bubble wrap and protect them.”
Johnson’s family and girlfriend, Erin Addison, plan to attend the Boulder festival.
“The moral of the story,” Susan Johnson said, “is you seize the day, because you don’t know what tomorrow will bring.”