The Our Canyon Lands trail­er — cre­at­ed by film­mak­er Justin Clifton, for­mer Exec­u­tive Direc­tor of the 5Point Film Fes­ti­val and Direc­tor of Moun­tain­Film On Tour — speaks for itself. It’s a visu­al­ly stun­ning ode to the desert, a com­pelling advo­ca­cy piece for a trea­sured nation­al land­scape, and a com­men­tary on the state of human­i­ty. This soon-to-be-released doc­u­men­tary tells of the cur­rent threats fac­ing South­east­ern Utah: oil, gas, potash, ura­ni­um, and tar sands min­ing on land just out­side of the pro­tect­ed area of Canyon­lands Nation­al Park. It aims to raise aware­ness of the prob­lems the coun­try could face on a nation­al lev­el if we don’t choose to pro­tect this area, which Clifton spoke to us about. 

The trail­er is avail­able to view now, which you should do by click­ing the video below. The film itself will be released on Sep­tem­ber 12th in Moab, Utah

THE CLYMB: What com­pelled you — per­son­al­ly and pro­fes­sion­al­ly — to tack­le a project like this one?
JUSTIN CLIFTON: It was a con­scious shift from the path that I was on to evolve and use my skills to help advo­ca­cy groups tell their sto­ries. A lit­tle over a year ago, I made a con­scious shift to cre­ate media for change.

I earned my degree in jour­nal­ism and worked in tele­vi­sion news for a while, but the major­i­ty of my back­ground comes from spend­ing a decade curat­ing film for fes­ti­vals (pri­mar­i­ly advo­ca­cy film). See­ing the pow­er of film for change made me real­ly want to go out and help peo­ple tell more of the sto­ries that weren’t being told. In many ways, it’s the evo­lu­tion of jour­nal­ism in America.On the per­son­al side, this land­scape is in my soul; I’m not just tack­ling this from a pro­fes­sion­al stand­point. This is one of the few places where I feel tru­ly at home. The region at risk is in the Col­orado Plateau, which is my back­yard, and I care deeply about it. 

THE CLYMB: What is the sto­ry of Our Canyon Lands real­ly about?
JUSTIN CLIFTON: It’s about our col­lec­tive equi­ty in these pub­lic lands. We’re talk­ing about land­scapes that all Amer­i­cans own equal­ly, and it real­ly becomes a ques­tion of what our pri­or­i­ties are as a nation. Do we want to indus­tri­al­ize the best of our land­scapes for 17 days of oil — which is about how long the resource in the Greater Canyon­lands Region will last at today’s con­sump­tion rates — or do we want to pro­tect these land­scapes for future gen­er­a­tions, to main­tain the integri­ty of wild spaces for our own human imagination?

THE CLYMB: How did you first learn of the threats fac­ing the Greater Canyon­lands Region?
JUSTIN CLIFTON: My first intro­duc­tion was when Tim DeChristo­pher stood for the lands and ulti­mate­ly went to prison. Like a lot of peo­ple, I thought what he did changed what was hap­pen­ing through­out the region. Unfor­tu­nate­ly the pres­sures inten­si­fied and our pub­lic lands through­out the region are still being auc­tioned off to indus­tri­al­ize this unbe­liev­ably wild land­scape. It was through the Grand Canyon Trust that I learned more about what was hap­pen­ing. The work they are doing with oth­ers like the South­ern Utah Wilder­ness Alliance and the Sier­ra Club to save this land­scape is unpar­al­leled, but they need the help and sup­port of informed cit­i­zens to get this land protected.

THE CLYMB: What is one rea­son that some­one who has nev­er set foot in this area should care about it? 
JUSTIN CLIFTON: There are so many rea­sons: envi­ron­ment, cli­mate, soli­tude, adven­ture, escape. But, if I have to say one, I’d say water. This land­scape is vital­ly impor­tant to the Col­orado riv­er water­shed, which sus­tains more than 40 mil­lion peo­ple. Beyond that, it pro­vides 15 per­cent of the food we con­sume in the U.S., so with­out a healthy Col­orado riv­er, our coun­try will suf­fer tremen­dous­ly. Once it’s gone we can nev­er get it back. This is tru­ly wild land that we should leave as a lega­cy  — a gift — to all future gen­er­a­tions (to quote the late Randy Udall).

THE CLYMB: What’s some­thing you’ve learned from tak­ing this project on that you did­n’t expect to?
JUSTIN CLIFTON: That noth­ing fits into a pret­ty lit­tle box. This is a com­plex sto­ry about eco­nom­ics, com­mu­ni­ty, indus­try, cli­mate, envi­ron­ment, water — the list goes on. It would be so nice if you just had a vil­lain to ral­ly against, but this is much more nuanced than that. This isn’t a good vs. evil sto­ry; this is a sto­ry about what’s impor­tant to us as Amer­i­cans, as human beings liv­ing on this plan­et, about what we want our lega­cy to be. Are we bold enough to stand up and pro­tect more of our trea­sured landscapes?

THE CLYMB: What was the biggest chal­lenge you faced in set­ting out on the project?
JUSTIN CLIFTON: Know­ing how the film would ulti­mate­ly come togeth­er. I went in with a rough idea of a script that I felt would work and, with­in 30 min­utes of our first shoot, real­ized that the script was com­plete­ly out the win­dow. Luck­i­ly, real­i­ty was much more inter­est­ing than what I orig­i­nal­ly thought the sto­ry would be.



What do you do when your two years teach­ing Eng­lish in Japan are over and you still want more? You decide to cycle the length of the coun­try… despite not being a cyclist! What do you do when an earth­quake, tsuna­mi and a nuclear melt­down hap­pen just before the trip? You press on and turn the jour­ney into a fundrais­er, make a movie, ebook and a devel­op a web­site about it. And that’s exact­ly what Andrew Marston did. Inspired by the doc­u­men­tary Kin­taro Walks Japan, he recruit­ed two friends, Scott Keenan and Dylan Gun­ning and set off.


Derek Pet­tie: The earth­quake and its fall­out hap­pened just a month before you were set to ride; how did it affect your trip?

AM: We turned our trip into a fundrais­er with a goal of $10,000… and end­ed up rais­ing $13,500. I talked with a rel­a­tive of mine who is a nuclear engi­neer con­sul­tant and helps decom­mis­sion nuclear reac­tors in the States. He was fol­low­ing the sto­ry pret­ty close­ly and let us know it was safe to go along the west coast. Orig­i­nal­ly we want­ed to go through Tokyo, and that would have led us along the east coast where the earth­quake hap­pened. We had been toy­ing with skip­ping Tokyo any­way, because it’s such a met­ro­pol­i­tan area that bik­ing through is extreme­ly slow and tedious. We end­ed up tak­ing a route through the Japan­ese Alps. We did­n’t see any earth­quake dam­age en route because we steered clear of the area, but every­body we met was impact­ed by it.

DP: Is cycle tour­ing a pop­u­lar pas­time in Japan?
AM: Not real­ly. We did encounter sev­er­al oth­er cyclists on the road, and at one point we camped next to a group doing a sim­i­lar tour. In gen­er­al, self-pro­pelled trav­el is a revered pas­time in Japan, so cycling fits in with that, but is a more recent phe­nom­e­non. Also the Japan­ese typ­i­cal­ly don’t have enough time off to take a big tour. We did encounter sev­er­al “cred­it card cyclists”, peo­ple who take the week­end and don’t pack any­thing except for their cred­it card. They hop on their road bike and go as far as they can — just buy­ing every­thing they need when they stop, to make the most of their time.

DP: How did peo­ple react to your trip?
AM: Most peo­ple were impressed and sur­prised when they heard where we were going. Espe­cial­ly at the begin­ning, when we were the fur­thest from our fin­ish line and telling them we were going to bike the whole country!

SchoolI think some of them did­n’t believe us, but as Japan­ese peo­ple are ultra-polite, they would nev­er say that to our faces. I think they were appre­cia­tive we were still inter­est­ed in their coun­try, right after the earth­quake. Right around that time, the Japan­ese board of tourism was des­per­ate to get tourists to come back because of the radi­a­tion scare. They were real­ly grate­ful that we were giv­ing them some good press.

DP: Did you have any unex­pect­ed hap­pen­ings along the way?
AM: The morn­ing of day two, we were wok­en up by the police and were kind of freaked out. We had been camp­ing on the beach and were pret­ty sure it was okay to camp there, but you nev­er want to wake up to the police. They asked us a few ques­tions and estab­lished that we were the peo­ple they had seen last night near the con­ve­nience store before they got to their real point for wak­ing us up… they had found a large bot­tle of sake near where we had been hang­ing out and they want­ed to know if it was ours so they could return it to us just in case we had for­got­ten it. That is the only time the police have offered me alco­hol. The bot­tle was­n’t ours, but it made for a com­i­cal situation!

Day 27 to day 28, we were cycling to stay with a friend who lived near Mt Fuji and we thought she lived near Shizuo­ka sta­tion. We got there and real­ized that not only was it 10 o’clock at night, but she lived 30 kilo­me­ters fur­ther.  Also, a typhoon was approach­ing from the North­east and we tried to race it! We end­ed up los­ing that race and get­ting hit by tor­ren­tial rains. It was mid­night, and we saw a short­cut on our map that looked like a straight shot to her house. Turns out it was the express­way, with big semi trucks zoom­ing past us and every­one get­ting soaked. It was just crazy. We got off as soon as we could. That was one of the more nerve-wrack­ing times of the trip.


DP: Any advice for some­one who dreams of doing a sim­i­lar trip?
AM: Allow your­self more time than you think you need, because we did­n’t have enough time in the places we were tour­ing or with the peo­ple we met. Our 3500 kilo­me­ter trip took 43 days and, I would rec­om­mend 50 or 60 days (depend­ing on bud­get and avail­abil­i­ty). The real joy of tour­ing Japan is in the details of the cul­ture, includ­ing the hole in the wall ramen shops and the peo­ple you meet along the way. You have to take the time to real­ly ben­e­fit from the experiences.

Also, the rea­son I made the movie and the ebook is so that hope­ful­ly oth­er peo­ple real­ize that they can do some­thing sim­i­lar! The three of us aren’t extreme adven­tur­ers liv­ing a wild lifestyle; we are real­ly just three aver­age guys who decid­ed to do some­thing big. Any­body, if they put their mind to it, could do some­thing just as big or bigger.

You can watch the film, down­load the book and research trav­el­ing to Japan at Andrew’s web­site japanbybicycle.com.