Skiers hang out during filming of the "1st Afghan Ski Challenge," a film coming to Boulder for the Banff Mountain Film Festival on Tuesday and
Skiers hang out during filming of the "1st Afghan Ski Challenge," a film coming to Boulder for the Banff Mountain Film Festival on Tuesday and Wednesday. (Photo courtesy of Banff Mountain Film Festival)
If you go

What: Banff Mountain Film Festival World Tour in Boulder

When: Boulder Theater

Where: Feb. 26-27

More info:

W hile filming "The Way Home," a 2011 short documentary about the lack of cultural diversity in national parks, film director Amy Marquis began thinking about her own outdoor lifestyle "comfort zone," as she called it.

She found that many of her friends and fellow outdoor enthusiasts were pretty homogenous -- they shared similar interests, viewpoints, backgrounds and lifestyles, and that might not necessarily be a good thing, she said.

"There's a little bit of danger in getting too comfortable in the (outdoors) scene," said Marquis, who works for the National Parks Conservation Association, which produced the film. "It's important to recognize that there are entire groups of Americans who aren't connecting with these places."

You can watch "The Way Home," which follows a primarily African-American Los Angeles church group to Yosemite, at the Banff Mountain Film Festival World Tour, which stops in Boulder on Feb. 26 and Feb. 27 at the Boulder Theater.

The film follows members of the Amazing Grace 50+ club as they learn about Yosemite's African-American history and discover the park for the first time. It's one of 20 films being show in Boulder, many of which focus on diversity in the outdoors community.


The move to showcase diversity at the Boulder tour stop was a conscious once, said Access Fund executive director Brady Robinson, who sat on the film selection committee. This year, Access Fund will host the festival and receive all proceeds from the event.

"What we were trying to do was figure out, where does Banff fit in with all the film festivals that come through Boulder?" Robinson said. "One of the things that might distinguish it is the cultural element. That isn't true for all the (films), but we wanted to show some each evening that were going to expose the audience to a culture or personalities they might not have ever seen before."

Other films in this vein include "1st Afghan Ski Challenge," a film about first-time skiers in Afghanistan, or "The Gimp Monkeys," which follows three disabled climbers as they ascend Yosemite's El Capitan.

In making "The Way Home," director Marquis learned about the stark lack of diversity at Yosemite National Park -- one percent of Yosemite's 4 million visitors each year are African American.

Park ranger Shelton Johnson, who appears in the film and is of African American and Native American descent, said he hopes to change that.

"For many years now, the audience I've tried to reach -- it's not so much the people that come to Yosemite," he said. "I'm interested in reaching people who never even dreamed of visiting a national park."

In the film, Johnson describes how even though slavery was abolished decades ago, African Americans still feel its effects today. It used to be, he said, that his ancestors had one of the most intimate connections to nature. Over the years, that connection was "whittled away," Johnson said, as they struggled to make ends meet and couldn't afford luxuries like a vacation to a national park.

"(It was) broken down to the point where African Americans are the one group least likely to have a wilderness experience," Johnson said.

Someday, Johnson said he hopes African Americans visit national parks as much as other races and ethnicities. This would be the "last act of the civil rights movement," he said.

The film's director Marquis agreed.

"National parks are this common ground where people can come together," she said. "There are so many things that divide us these days, but there's this universal thing that happens when you're in a place like Yosemite, when you're connecting to the history of the country and the history of the land -- you realize you're this small part of something much bigger."

National Parks Conservation Association Midwest regional director Lynn McClure co-chairs a taskforce within the organization to address the issue of diversity in national parks.

What McClure said she took away from watching the 10-minute film was the emotional connection the African American visitors felt when they experienced the park for the first time.

McClure said she hopes audience members in Boulder will feel that connection, and perhaps gain a better understanding of how national parks fit into the dialogue of U.S. history.

"We talk about national parks as really being the soul of America, and this film really hits that point," she said. "It's kind of the whole soul of that park coming out to this group."

--Follow Sarah Kuta on Twitter: @SarahKuta.