Sweetgrass was founded by three Colorado College film students who wanted to change the ski filmmaking game from a gratuitous string of powder face shots to films that actually told a story and engaged the viewer on a deeper level. Of course, anyone who’s seen the naked skiing segment from Valhalla, knows there’s still room for a little #skiporn now and then. They topped Valhalla with the utterly gorgeous Afterglow, which was shot entirely at night with massive colored lights with skiers tearing up the mountain in LED suits. Next up: skiporn meets environmental activism with Jumbo Wild, now screening in select cities.
2. Pete McBride
Pete is an award-winning filmmaker and National Geographic photographer from the Roaring Fork Valley near Aspen. He’s traveled the world following assignments and passions, but his true masterpieces involve a topic closer to home: the Colorado River. I Am Red is a beautifully shot and powerfully narrated tribute to the river and the challenges it faces. Delta Dawn traces a paddleboard journey through the Colorado Delta to the Pacific Ocean during a rare “pulse flow” event in which the normally dry riverbed was filled with water and allowed to reach the sea for the first time in decades.
3. Renan Ozturk
Two words: Fucking Meru.
4. Suzan Beraza
Suzan is the founder of Reel Thing, a documentary production company based in Telluride. Known for environmental and social documentaries, Suzan’s mission is to challenge her viewers to think deeply about complex issues that impact the world and the American West. Uranium Drive-In explores rural poverty through the lens of the environmental and economic impacts of a proposed uranium mill in a small Colorado town.
5. Daniel Junge
This Denver-based filmmaker continues to produce award-winning documentaries and shows no signs of slowing down. He won an Academy Award in 2012 for Saving Face, a film about a plastic surgeon returning to his native Pakistan to help women who were victims of acid attacks. At Sundance this year, he premiered Being Evel, a biographical documentary of the famous daredevil, Evel Knievel.
6. Nathan Ward
Nathan is a Colorado native who now lives in Salida. He recently released one of his most ambitious projects to date — a feature-length documentary called The Rider and the Wolf. This film tells the story of Mike Rust, a Hall of Fame mountain biker who was one of the early pioneers of the sport and disappeared under mysterious circumstances in 2009. His body has yet to be found.
7. Aly Nicklas
Aly is a documentary and commercial filmmaker based out of Boulder. She makes the list because of her touching new film, Knee Deep, which documents the community response to the devastating Boulder floods of 2013. Rather than watch her neighbors suffer during the disaster, Aly started a Facebook page to connect volunteers with those in need. When her friends grabbed shovels, she grabbed a camera and captured what happened when a resilient community comes together to do what disaster agencies couldn’t.
Before Blackfish, there was Louie Psihoyos’ The Cove, which uncovered an equally haunting story of illegal and secretive dolphin hunting in Japan and won an Oscar for best documentary feature in 2010. He followed that up with 2015’s Racing Extinction, which uses Bond-worthy hidden camera technology to weave an alarming yet hopeful exposé of the illegal wildlife trade and its impact on species extinction.
9. TC Johnstone
TC is a documentary filmmaker who currently calls Boulder home. His critically-acclaimed feature-length documentary Rising From Ashes told the inspirational story of a group of cyclists in Rwanda and their American coach with a mission to bring hope to their war-torn country. His current project is Teen Press, a short doc about a middle school journalism class in Santa Monica, CA and their experiences interviewing everyone from Al Gore to Yvon Chouinard.
These two Colorado College grads founded Sender Films, which is now headquartered in Boulder and has long been a mainstay in the world of climbing and mountaineering films. They are responsible for the REEL ROCK Film Tour, which packages the year’s best climbing films and brings them to the masses in theaters around the world. Their most critically-acclaimed work to date has been Valley Uprising, a documentary recounting the history of climbing culture in the Yosemite Valley.
These two filmmakers started a production company called Felt Soul Media in 2005 with the self-described mission “to make films that don’t suck.” They’ve more than achieved that goal over the past decade with tons of major client work, film festival awards and a spot on last year’s National Geographic Adventurers of the Year List for their work on the Patagonia-sponsored environmental documentary DamNation. This year, they followed that with two highly-acclaimed shorts — In Current, about running dories in the Grand Canyon and Denali, an emotional portrait of two best friends dealing with tragedy. Dog lover or not, I challenge you to watch the latter without openly weeping.
This production house out of Crested Butte has been pushing the boundaries of ski and adventure films for the better part of a decade. One of their more story-driven pieces, McConkey, recounts the story of Shane McConkey, a professional skier and larger-than-life daredevil who died tragically in a BASE-jumping accident in 2009.
Alexandria Bombach is an honorable mention since she was born in New Mexico and currently lives “on the road,” but she did attend Fort Lewis College in Durango and has a strong connection to Colorado. Ali has produced some amazing documentaries, most notably is this year’s Frame By Frame, which tells the story of four Afghan photojournalists trying to create art and document the violence and everyday beauty of their fragile homeland.