Awards, Film Festivals and Outdoor Recreation
By James A. Swan, Ph.D
Films and TV are the primary storytellers of our times, and stories are a prime force
in creating and changing culture, including how people view outdoor sports and conservation.
There is a definite need for more mainstream TV and films that show outdoor sports in a
positive way. One way to encourage more positive stories about outdoor sports is through
awards shows and film festivals that support filmmakers, as well as entertain and educate.
You may think that mainstream media award shows and festivals are probably biased against
hunting and fishing. Not so. Quality can prevail, even over political and philosophical
differences. Back in 1992 “A River Runs Through It”
won a number of awards including an Oscar for Best Cinematography, and
“The Ghost and the Darkness”
(1996) won Oscars for Best Effects and Sound Effects editing.
Award shows like the Oscars and Emmys began over 50 years ago. Film festivals began in Europe,
with the Vienna Film Festival (1932). The US didn’t begin holding major film festivals until
1957 when the first San Francisco International Film Festival was held. Today, film festivals
are everywhere. Filmfestivals.com
festivals already underway and more are in the works.
Festivals focus on all kinds of themes, and they also include educational seminars and workshops.
Following Earth Day 1970 when millions of people participated in Earth Day activities and the
news media began to seriously focus on ecology, festivals to honor excellence in films and TV
concerning ecology and wildlife slowly began to appear. Today,
there are at least two dozen environmental media festivals in the US alone
. Some of the most
notable include the DC Environmental Film Festival
the Wildlife Conservation Film Festival
the Wild and Scenic Film Festival
the International Wildlife Film Festival
and the Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival
Most are held at locations that have scenic natural beauty or political significance.
There’s also at least one online festival, the Green Unplugged International Film Festival
None of the existing award shows and film festivals focus primarily on outdoor sports.
There presently are awards shows for outdoor sports programs for the networks they appear on, such as the
Golden Moose Awards
(1993) for the Outdoor Channel and the Sportsman’s Choice Awards
for the Sportsmen’s Channel. There are also tourism film festivals
that may include outdoor sports.
What we need are award shows and festivals that focus on outdoor sports in mainstream media.
Creating new festivals is certainly one way, but the outdoor sports community can also encourage existing
TV and film festivals and award shows to pay more attention to outdoor sports.
Some examples of what can be done:
Vote with Your Feet
Festivals and award shows stay in business thanks to sponsors, advertisers, entrance fees, and attendance fees.
The more people who attend festivals that support outdoor-focused mainstream TV and films, the more that
general festivals and awards programs will recognize these kinds of shows and the people who produce them,
and the easier it becomes for producers to sell their programs to distributors and networks. So, promote
the ones who do support outdoor sports.
Especially for potential sponsors, it can be shown that TV and films can significantly change outdoor sports
popularity. “A River Runs Through It,” for example, put hundreds of thousands of new anglers in the streams
as well as pumping considerable money into the fly fishing industry. Both archery and wilderness survival
programs have grown in popularity as feature films and TV have shown heroic archers and wilderness survivors.
Create New Ways to Help Fund Programs
PBS, NEH, and large foundation funds are regular sponsors for funding and Competition is always tough as hundreds
of good, solid programs of all types are competing for this money. Foundations and organizations that readily
support films with an outdoor recreation theme are a rare species.
One quick example of how I learned this:
At the request of the CA Fish and Game Wardens, in 2007-2009 we produced the documentary
“Endangered Species: CA Fish and Game Wardens,”
that can be seen on Carbon TV
It was tough to raise the funds to make this film. We tried all the regular channels, and did not find any willing
to support the film, although they thought it was a good idea. Finally, thanks to the wardens, a foundation, several
outdoor sports organizations, a number of county fish and game commissions and the Sierra Club, this documentary got made.
The basic message is that California has a crucial shortage of game wardens, resulting in considerable damage to the
state’s natural resources, as well as outdoor recreation opportunities. As a result of the wardens distributing copies
of the documentary throughout the California state government and holding screenings throughout the state at schools,
public meetings, sportsmen’s expos, etc.; budgets cuts for wardens were scrapped, a stamp
that can be purchased wherever licenses are sold to fund warden training was created, new public relations programs
were able to begin, and more wardens were hired.
Conservationists need to create ways to support more serious mainstream films and TV about outdoor sports. Here again,
festivals and award shows can help encourage major TV and film producers to tackle outdoor sports stories by showing
that people want to see such programs.
This is the Information Age, where media play a very important role in creating and changing public opinion.
Mainstream movies and TV screenings
that tell the stories of ethical outdoor sportsmen and sportswomen
can make a difference.
It’s time to create some new festivals and award shows to help sell the value of outdoor recreation.
If you don’t have a wildlife or ecology film festival in your area, one way that you can help spread the work of
the festivals to hold a local screening of the winners, such as what the
Jackson Hole WFF