Young Filmmakers On a Mission 6

It’s a fact – being outdoors, seeing big open spaces, smelling flowers and feeling warm sunshine are good for mind, body and soul. Two young Boulder filmmakers are not taking this for granted and want to ensure that this exposure to nature is appreciated, preserved and available for future generations.

Meet Liam Walton and Ani Yahzid, two 18-year-olds who did not know each other until meeting during the writing of this story.  Each is on a mission to celebrate the outdoors through the lenses of their video cameras.  Liam just graduated from Boulder’s New Vista High School; Ani is a sophomore at the University of Colorado. Liam wants to raise awareness of global warming’s impact on the sport he loves – skiing.  Ani grew up in Atlanta and discovered the outdoors through an after-school program that took him out of the city and into the woods, inspiring him to introduce other multicultural youth to the awesomeness of nature.

“I remember leaving the big city of Atlanta and driving a couple of hours north to Georgia’s mountains and seeing a totally different world,” said Ani. “It was a bunch of small towns, and I remember looking out the window as we drove there and seeing the trees, all the farms, just the amount of open space — it was crazy to me. Just being able to see far! That’s when I decided that the outdoors was cool.”

Liam’s perspective was different. Born and raised in Boulder, learning to ski and snowboard as a toddler at Eldora Mountain Resort just 45 minutes up Boulder Canyon, he took for granted what the outdoors offered. But recently he began hearing about what climate change could mean to the ski industry, that in 50 years there may not be any skiing due to global warming. The result is his film, a high school graduation project, “Melting Away.”

“I’ve been skiing my entire life, and once I found out that climate change was impacting the ski industry, I wanted to find out why,” he says in his 16-minute documentary.  He interviewed the foremost climate model experts, meteorologists and ski industry veterans about this growing concern. His film paints a powerful picture of what is impacting the planet, not just the ski industry.

Both these young filmmakers want to grab people’s attention about what they believe to be important – appreciating and preserving nature.

“I always want to have skiing in my life, and I want to know that my kids will have skiing in their lives, to be able to enjoy the delicacy of snow and how beautiful the special feeling is to ski and ride through waist-deep powder,” said Liam.

Ani’s approach to getting inner-city youth to think that the outdoors is important — and cool — is through music. He took Atlanta hip-hop artist Namaste and music producer Keylan on a two-week backpacking trip to Washington’s Olympic Peninsula this past summer and filmed them experiencing nature for the first time. He is calling the project “Exposure.”

“I told them that it’s going to be a very tough trip, physically and mentally, because it will be pretty overwhelming. They were like, uh, we’ve climbed trees before, we’ll be okay,” said Ani, laughing. “It does matter to capture the balance of the good and the bad, so the film is not just cool “slo-mo” moments of them walking through the mountains.  It also captures the emotional aspects of the trip, the emotions that the outdoors can evoke from anyone, both good and bad.”

It hasn’t been easy for these young filmmakers to attain their objectives. Each launched a fundraising campaign to buy equipment and cover travel and production expenses.

Liam had “zero” experience with filmmaking and editing and didn’t have a good computer for the editing software. “I had no idea how to use a DSLR camera, everyone uses their phones as cameras,” he said. He bought equipment with funds from his crowdfunding campaign and taught himself via on-line videos and courses.  Likewise, Ani, a double-major in evolutionary biology and business, has never taken a photography nor filmmaking class. Despite no formal training, their untrained eyes are proving to be able to see and produce some powerful images.

“At first it was just a creative project for me, the hip-hop-in-the-outdoors mixture,” said Ani. “I want to reach multicultural youth with films through Youtube, to get them to hear the music, to see (black people like themselves) and think it’s cool to get outdoors,” he said.

And Liam’s goal? “What I want to happen is that my film will open people’s eyes,” he said.  “People don’t know how lucky they are to be outdoors.”

In addition to visibility on Youtube, both young filmmakers have had their works accepted for screening at film festivals. Boulder’s Adventure Film Festival is supporting Ani’s project and helped produce and distribute “Exposures” in October. “Melting Away” has been accepted by the Vail Summer Film Festival and Liam is talking with the organization Preserve Our Winters (POW) with hopes it can get “Melting Away” additional visibility.