Where are Women in Outdoor Films? A Look at How Banff Mountain Film Festival Wants to Change the Status Quo

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Every year the Banff Mountain Film Festival World Tour inches its way across the United States and the rest of the world.  There are films about mountaineering, mountain biking, skiing, surfing, climbing and just about every other outdoor sport you can think of. But, the films also represent a continuation of another trend in adventure films: a lack of women.

Women are not the only underrepresented group at the festival; there’s very little ethnic diversity in these films. But diversity, specifically of gender, is not a Banff-specific problem; women are underrepresented across the entire industry of outdoor film. Most of Banff’s films are drawn from the outdoor film industry, which means the trend of under-representation spreads to the festival. Banff becomes a convenient rallying point because many people get their annual dose of adventure film at the Banff World Tour. Questions about gender equality are so prevalent on the tour that the festival’s website and its brochure address the question head-on: Where are the women? The answer is complicated.

Why So Few Women?
In 2010, the Banff Mountain Festival started an open forum about this topic on their Facebook page. One of the reasons they gave for the gender discrepancy is a dearth of films submitted to the competition, not the festival’s process of selecting the winning films. So how do you increase the number of films that feature women? One argument is that adventure film privileges risk and danger and those aren’t necessarily the reasons women go on adventures. Whether this is true or not, it raises an important questions: What does it mean to talk about mountain films? Is pushing the envelope an intrinsic element of adventure film, or is there space and demand for pieces that highlight other impetuses for spending time in the mountains? In 2013 theWorld Tour included films from both categories, and the Grand Prize winner, North of the Sun, which is about surfing, is also about living away from society and pursuing your passion. It was an introspective piece that also included some classic surfing (and even snowboarding) shots. The film’s success suggest that the definition of “adventure film” is malleable.

What’s Being Done to Change Things?
One example is Pretty Faces, a film project spearheaded by skier Lynsey Dyer. On the project’s Kickstarter page, the project is described as an “all female ski and adventure sports film.” Impetus for the film was the discrepancy between adventure film viewership (~30% women) and the percentage of women in these films (~14%). Support for the project was overwhelming: funding topped $100,000, far out-stripping the initial goal of $60,000. Banff is also working hard to change the trend. The Banff Facebook page features numerous links to women’s achievements in adventure sports, including the inclusion of women’s ski jumping at the Olympics. The festival is also reminding athletes and filmmakers that demand for films with female leads are in high demand. So, if you’ve been sitting on a project, go out and do it, and submit the film to the Banff Mountain Film Festival.