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

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.