The list of film activities in Chattanooga is endless these days, from festivals to organizations to happy hours, but few can claim their origins are based in late nights soothing an infant.
What: Lookout Wild Film Festival
When: Friday-Sunday, March 22-24, times vary
Where: Chattanooga Choo-Choo Centennial Theater and Ross's Landing
How much: $5 per day, $10 for a festival pass
The Lookout Wild Film Festival opens tonight at the Chattanooga Choo-Choo Centennial Theater, running through Sunday and showing 25 films that, as the event’s tagline reads, focus on “wild places and the people they inspire.”
Creating a niche of outdoor adventure cinema within the film swell in Chattanooga, and yet presenting the subject in a narrative that is relatable to any audience member, the festival offers a global and local look at the great outdoors from fly fishing in New Zealand to caving in Middle Tennessee.
“People who enjoy film will enjoy this festival,” said Andy Johns, festival director. “People who enjoy stories will enjoy this festival, even if you don’t rock climb or kayak or hang glide. People may come in with the idea that you will only appreciate the films if you do some of the activities, but I hope they are surprised by the captivating, gripping stories.”
From quiet nights to the big screen
After kicking around the idea of an outdoor-themed festival with friends for years, Johns discovered the genre’s immense well of independent films and documentary films during long nights with his infant son.
Because loud action movies weren’t the best soundtrack for a dozing child, he opted for surf films and conservation documentaries.
The late-night screenings developed into the recognition of a void Chattanooga could fill in offering an outdoor-centric festival—the likes of which are typically held nearer the West Coast—in the East.
Johns noted that he once read in a Hank Williams biography that it was the Grand Ole Opry that initiated Nashville’s blossoming into the modern-day hub for country music. The radio show drew musicians from the 1920s whose presence attracted the record labels, and the rest is history.
Though the Lookout Wild Film Festival director is cautious to compare Chattanooga’s event with the Music City institution, it's a model the festival’s board hopes to emulate: bring talented filmmakers to Chattanooga in order to lure other talented filmmakers and more movers and shakers within the industry.
Christina Holmes explained that Chattanooga’s own landscape—with plenty of reasons to draw everyone from whitewater rafters to rock climbers to hang gliders—and the area’s history of hosting high-level competitions caused the festival’s focus to click effortlessly.
“This is a brilliant idea. It’s one thing we didn’t have in the Southeast, and Chattanooga is the perfect location,” she said. “We already have the outdoor setting and world-class athletes in almost every area [of outdoor activities].”
The festival’s organization also proved to be a testament to the city’s ability to foster collaboration.
The Lookout Wild Film Festival came together in record time with the initial rustling of planning last fall, the call for submission—a two-month window in which the board received 75 entries from 18 countries—in early December and the debut in March.
Presenting partners include Land Rover of Chattanooga, McKay's Used Books, Silvery and Huffaker Creative and Get Out Chattanooga, with The Crash Pad and Whole Foods providing location and fixings for Sunday's reception.
The adventure of stories
The primary guideline in choosing the 25 films from the scores of submissions was a simple rule of thumb. Johns noted that the board was more interested in a palpable and meaningful story and less interested in clips of extreme sports set to techno music.
The screenings are offered in nine different categories: adventure sports, conservation, documentary, exploration, feature, narrative, short and southeastern.
The entries came from Argentina, Austria, France, Germany, India and the U.S., among other points on the globe. The filmmakers range from amateurs to students to professionals.
Thanks to advancements in camera technology, Johns said it was easier for people to capture and share their own adventures. There are films on urban skiing, sand boarding, hang gliding, bouldering and more wild-driven enterprises than there are supplies at Rock/Creek.
One film, “Wampler’s Ascent,” follows the story of a man with cerebral palsy who fearlessly scaled El Capitan in Yosemite National Park over the course of six days and five nights.
“Cascada,” which screened at SXSW this year, follows a group of kayakers exploring Mexico for the ultimate waterfall and the ultimate footage of navigating the rapids.
A chunk of the films share a connection to the Southeast area, be it local filmmakers or a local production company or the content of the film itself.
“Waters of the Greenstone,” for instance, serves as a diary of two Chattanoogans’ backpacking trek across New Zealand, and “The Mystery of George Masa” reveals the enigmatic tale of a Japanese immigrant who took it upon himself to hike and photograph the Great Smoky Mountains in the 1920s and 1930s.
His explorations provided the groundwork for establishing the national park.
“Folks often feel that the national outdoor field focuses on Montana, California and Idaho, not to say those place aren’t great, but we want to highlight the places around here that you can get to in a weekend,” Johns said.
The Lookout Wild Film Festival kicks off tonight at 7 p.m. at the Chattanooga Choo-Choo Centennial Theater.
The festival continues tomorrow at the Choo-Choo with sessions from 3 to 6:30 p.m. and two outdoor screenings at the Chattanooga Challenge at Ross's Landing from 6 to 9 p.m. and 9 to 11 p.m.
Sunday’s session and awards ceremony will run from 1 to 4 p.m. with a reception to follow at The Crash Pad.