By Army Veteran Joshua Brandon
“You defended your country once, now your country needs you again” was the idea we left with our military and veteran filmmakers as we celebrated the debut of the Sierra Club’s first veteran films at the Dairy Center of the Arts in Boulder, CO. For a week in May, Sierra Club Military Outdoors partnered with the Outside Adventure Film School and Veteran’s Expeditions to train aspiring active service members and veterans in the art of outdoor film making in the mountains and deserts of Colorado. In some of the most beautiful terrain our country has to offer, our team experienced a week of raw emotions, tested their physical and mental limits, and made powerful friendships, all while learning their craft under the watchful eye of Michael Brown and Serac Adventure Films, one of the top outside filmmakers in the industry.Our veteran film makers were a diverse a group as any I have worked with in the military. These men and women represented every branch of the service and came from all over the world, from Long Island to Washington and Russia to new Mexico. Their stories were all different, but they all shared one thing in common, the desire to learn to tell their stories through the medium of film in the outdoors.
In my experience as a mountaineer, I find that the journey rather than the summit is oftentimes the most rewarding part of any expedition. This trip was no different. Our team quickly realized that they were committed to a grueling fifteen mile mountain traverse from the start as we slogged through the snow and mud in the Zapata Pass area up to the ridge line. Our tough approach was rewarded with stunning views and an alpine sunrise as me made the ridge. For the next 9 miles, we traversed on a ridge in the Sangre De Cristo range, and were greeted with a stunning view of the the surrounding mountains and dunes as we paused on the summit of Carbonate Mountain. We then raced against imposing thunderclouds down to Mosca Pass, where we made the final leg of our journey into the Great Sand Dunes National Park. For the next two days, our team continued to develop their skills as filmmakers as we explored the rolling dunes and the starry nights of the park.
While we were hesitant to leave the dunes, our vets soon got to work in our team house in Sunshine Canyon outside of Boulder. They benefited from mentor- ship of the Serac Films crew as they edited their films and crafted their stories for the next two days. On the final day, our team debuted their films to their peers and guests at the Dairy Center for the Arts in Boulder. Not only did they demonstrate a talent for storytelling through film, they honored all of us with a very personal look at their lives and the challenges they face through the stories they told.
The Outside Adventure Film School provided our vets with the tools they need to tell their own stories in the outdoors. These same tools will allow them to continue to tell not just their own stories, but those of their fellow veterans, and those of the wild places we go to heal. Much like David Brower and Ansel Adams initiated massive change in bringing our wildest places to America after World War 2 through the medium of film, this new generation of veteran film makers will do the same for our warriors and the wild places they defended.
A special thanks to the Sierra Club, The Outside Adventure Film School, Veterans Expeditions, and most importantly, our team of veterans in making this an extraordinary trip.Please view the films here at the following links: