BIFF Provides Vicarious Thrills for a Troubled World

Above: Notable BIFF celebrity interviewer Ron Bostwick (L) introduces music icon Robbie Robertson (R) from the film Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and The Band during an in-person Q&A on the Opening Night of the Boulder International Film Festival, March 6, 2020. Photo credit: Randall Malone /

It was certainly a case of flop sweat. My heart was racing and beads of perspiration formed on my brow. Yet I was hardly moving. Instead I spent last weekend watching a procession of outstanding films at the 16th annual Boulder International Film Festival (BIFF), enjoying pulse quickening scenes of Superpower Dogs lowered onto avalanche victims by helicopter; blind athlete Lonnie Bedwell paddling the Colorado river through the Grand Canyon; superfit Faroe Islands pastor Sverri Steinholm running along knife- edge ridges; storm chasers playing tag with tornados; and the late U.K. piano restorer Desmond O’Keeffe, delivering an upright to 14,000-ft. Lingshed in the Indian Himalayas.

Funniest moment was when actor Ryan Gaul, during a talkback for the film Jack, featuring a cat about to be euthanized (it’s funnier than it sounds), yelled “run!” and mockingly fell to the floor when the moderator sneezed. It was a moment of comic relief we all needed along with another shpritz of hand sanitizer.

BIFF attracted 25,000 films, filmmakers, and movie buffs from around the world to Boulder for a four-day celebration of the art of cinema. This year, the festival debuted the Adventure Film Pavilion at eTown Hall to celebrate the most exciting new adventure films of the year.

Adventure Pavilion moderator Isaac Savitz said his selection committee viewed 400 adventure films in three months to select 35 for the BIFF audience. If you didn’t like one, just wait a few minutes and another film was screened that would drop your jaw to the floor.

The 2020 line-up included four shorts programs and three features, including Home, about UK Adventurer Sarah Outen who traversed the globe by bike, kayak, and rowboat; Climbing Blind, about Jesse Dufton who attempts to be the first blind person to make a gripping “non-sight” lead of the iconic Old Man of Hoy seat stack in Scotland; and Lost Temple of the Inca, about Boulder scientist Preston Sowell’s journey to Peru where he discovers a lost temple of the Inca Empire. It was a behind-the-scenes look inside a cutting edge expedition at the headwaters of the Amazon river, a race against time as mining companies seek to ruin the Peruvian Andes Lake Sibinacocha region.

Legendary grizzly expert, Green Beret medic, and eco-warrior Doug Peacock, the real-life inspiration for the character George Hayduke in Edward Abbey’s novel The Monkey Wrench Gang, said in Grizzly Country, “Saving habitat is the most satisfying expression of joy I know. If you’re down and depressed get outside. It’s the best cure I know for the metaphysical icky-poos.”

Boulder resident Jeff Blumenfeld, a frequent contributor to Elevation Outdoors, is author of Travel With Purpose: A Field Guide to Voluntourism (Rowman & Littlefield),

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