By Genevieve Villamizar
Special to The Sopris Sun
For founder Aisha Weinhold, the reality of this weekend’s third annual flagship No Man’s Land Film Festival (NMLFF) is a trip.
“Oh my gosh, being in The Sopris Sun, and showing the films at the Crystal, I feel like I made it, This is a Carbondale girl’s dream!” says Weinhold, a cereal box cover of wholesome goodness.
Don’t let that deceive you. At 25, Weinhold is an alpinist, trail runner and business woman. She and husband Steve Denny own Ragged Mountain Sports, a gear consignment shop/hang out on Highway 133.
In the beginning, No Man’s Land was an impulse born of inky dark seas and a big freaking chunk of solitude.
“I did this sailing thing from California to Hawaii; all kind of in the name of not going to college,” she explains. “You’re on bow watch every night. For some reason, I don’t KNOW what happened, I got left on for two hours. It’s pitch black! You’re all alone. You kinda start to lose your mind. Out of nowhere, I was like ‘I’m going to start an all-female adventure film festival. I’m going to call it No Man’s Land. And the logo will look like this!”
Weinhold had no idea, at first, where she would take it. It was really just that hall pass to freedom.
“I mean, you know, my parents – ‘Oh, if I do this, then I won’t have to go to school; they’ll be fine with it.’ Umm, they weren’t!” she laughs. “But it seemed like a cool idea. I spent two years looking for content. As I got more serious, I got more invested in the mission behind it, why this festival was important.”
Weinhold knew she was breaking trail.
“It was evident from the very beginning there were very few female role models. Growing up here with 5-Point [Film Festival] it’s very easy to overindulge in the adventure world, but then, when you don’t have anyone who looks like you or is do anything you’re doing, it’s very quickly disenchanting….there’s very little of women just crushing it! I have a hard time with it,” she admits. “You see Timmy O’neil and Craig Childs, and they’re funny and they’re independent. They can travel where they want, they don’t have to worry about anything. No matter what they say or do it’s funny; nothing’s really off limits. Whatever they do, it’s a great success,” seemingly. Argh. “And that’s juxtaposed with, maybe you had a bouldering film, with one really blonde girl in short-shorts, or you had a runner, and she kinda ran far but most of it was sunsets and her feelings.”
Weinhold’s derision is tempered, knowing she’s a crusher herself, and the film fest she and her crew are growing highlights other women doing as much, if not more, than their male counterparts.
In three years, NMLFF has gone from a one night stand in tiny schoolhouse to a staff of five women creating this year’s three-day fest.
Starting today, this year’s fest has 45 films. NMLFF will bring adventure and inspiration to kids in area schools. Legit chick athletes will share stories. Panel discussions will open up dialogs. You can get down, dog, with morning yoga sessions at the patch of green on Fourth and Main. Meetups will offer unknown adventures with new people. For a detailed schedule, visit nomanslandfilmfestival.org/2017-festival-schedule.
“The guest speakers coming are awesome! Who do we have?” Weinhold whips ’em out:
“Katie Bono; just set a speed record on Denali. Sarah Tingey, first female self-supported descent of Grand Canyon! Margie Woods, sailed solo across the Pacific! Katie Boué, a Salt Lake outdoor and environmental activist.”
Based on conversations overheard on crags in coffee shops and the bar, one panel not to be missed, Sept. 16, 12:20-1:20 p.m. at Steve’s Guitars, is Women in Media, discussing “the lack of women in media, what our role is in the way that we are portrayed in these spaces, and what we can do to leave us feeling empowered and connected.”
Weinhold is thrilled to see the progression of women in sports and the production of films around that. It simply wasn’t available three years ago when she first sourced content for the festival. “But there are still gaps,” she gripes.
The diversity and spread of this year’s submissions have come through the NMLFF site and by “diving down the rabbit hole on the internet,” explains Program Director Sarah Coburn.
Which is the only way they could have possibly found the oddly invigorating “Ten Meter Towers”. The viewer sits in tension, watching a 6-year old girl override fears that others simply couldn’t.
“Outside Voices”, the test piece of 2016’s film programming, featured Jenn Shelton, of Born to Run infamy, and was the crux of the film programming.
“That film was funny! People either loved it- or they hated it!” says Weinhold.
“That was a very polarizing film!” interjects Director of Operations Kaki Arnaud.
“People had a lot to say about it,” Weinhold continues.
One feature you won’t see in public but share some of the spirit of NMLFF is “Within Reach”, featuring Shelma Jun. Jun started Flash Foxy on Instagram, which exploded into a celebration of rad ass climbing chicks across the nation.
“I grew up as a self-proclaimed tomboy; it’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot,” Jun says in the film. “I kinda want to rebel against that. Women don’t have to be tomboys to want to run around and go outside and get beat up and dirty. And also, you don’t even have to be this stereotype of being someone who’s outdoorsy as a woman. We can embrace beauty in our playfulness, in our sexuality, without being objectified.”
Coburn, who lives in a camper on her truck here in Carbondale, brings NML to schools to nip sexism in the bud and present a fresh take on feminism.
“Something I heard when I was younger has stuck with me,” she says. “Men are taught to try, to go for it, and it’s OK to fail. And girls are taught…to be ‘perfect’ — not wanting to breathe hard, not wanting to do a snot rocket. Not being able to say ‘I’m… strong. I’m also feminine.’ That’s all taught within ‘be a perfect package, all the time.’”
What does ‘redefine feminism’ mean? Why is it important to re-empower women in the outdoor field.
The bar table goes off as the NMLFF crew discusses a new feminism.
“I think a lot of women have trouble dissolving that line [of feminine flair and strength],” states Kathy Karlo, a film feature from 2016 and currently NMLFF Tour Coordinator + Event Manager, based from New York City, here in Carbondale for the festival. “For me, redefining femininity is about embracing being strong and vulnerable. Those qualities that we as women bring to the table to any of our sports, at anything we do, careers, life in general, they’re really important. And we keep trying to segregate them- when we’re most successful when we combine them.”
Enjoy the film festival and ponder your own answers to these questions. By the way, all genders are welcome to No Man’s Land.