Three years after his tragic death while climbing in China, Jonny Copp’s Adventure Film Festival is still going strong. The annual event in Boulder that pulls in outdoor-inspired movies from around the world continues with an expanded program in 2012 under the direction of Copp’s sister Aimee. With broad experience in sports marketing and a passion for art and photography she’s creating an enduring legacy to preserve the memory of a young man who in life embodied many of the best qualities in a modern adventurer.
Killed in an avalanche while on assignment with fellow climber Micah Dash and cameraman Wade Johnson, Jonny Copp devoted much of his career to inspiring others. The Adventure Film Festival was first created to showcase the best work of his friends and colleagues in the depiction of their travels as motion pictures. Today Aimee has taken Jonny’s vision of combining art and adventure to establish an institution that provides training and funding opportunities for talented young filmmakers to follow their ambitions wherever they may lead. Through the Jonny Copp Foundation, Aimee continues to support and encourage the creation of high production value projects perpetuate her brother’s original dream. And in the process she’s embraced his passion to make it her own.
On behalf of National Geographic Adventure, James Edward Mills of the Joy Trip Project asked Aimee Copp a few pointed questions about the Adventure Film Festival and her role as its director.
James Edward Mills: What inspires you to keep the film festival going at such a high level three years after Jonny’s death?
Aimee Copp: Definitely right after everything happened it was all very tragic and devastating, the most devastating thing that’s ever happened in my life. After something like that happens then there are all the moving parts and pieces around that person, what they do and what they love. And the thing, of course, my brother absolutely loved was climbing, and he loved adventure, and he also loved running this film festival. He had worked so hard at building it, the blood, sweat, and tears and bringing that community together in Boulder, it was definitely his dream. That was something our family wanted to caring on.
So immediately after everything happened, we knew that we wanted to make sure that the festival continued and do what we could to make it successful. I had always been in the field of marketing and business development. I graduated from USC’s Annenberg School and since I played basketball there it just seemed like a natural transition to go into sports marketing. I did that for a while, and then worked for Starbucks Coffee and did their marketing for many years. And then I started doing independent consulting and business development for entrepreneurs and small businesses.
But when these tragic moments happen in your life, you have these moments of clarity. I knew that I wanted to make a change to be able to carry on my bother’s dream and kind of make that sacrifice with moving on from a very well-paying job to starting the foundation and running the film festival. I really made a lifestyle change to do that, but not having any second thoughts at all and I knew absolutely that this was something that I wanted to do, what our family wanted to do. And I was just willing to throw myself out there and do everything that I could to continue the festival and continue to make it successful. And most importantly carry on my brother’s memory.
J.E.M.: The Jonny Copp Foundation works to inspire and support the work of a new generation of young adventure filmmakers. Despite the tragic circumstances of Jonny, Micah, and Wade’s deaths, it’s clear that it’s not only important that you preserve their memory but also to support others that have similar goals and ambitions. What do you hope will ultimately come from the work that you’re doing to promote other people who are doing the same dangerous things that your brother did?
A.C.: My brother was a multi-talented person. If you look back at him as a person you see you have the professional alpine climber sponsored by Patagonia, you have the professional photographer, and the professional writer. He did all these things, and he did them well. That is amazing in itself. In addition to that he was also a talented musician. He played the flute. He played the guitar, the drums. He loved music. That’s something very special.
With the festival, with the foundation, with the Johnny Copp award, the Copp-Dash Inspire award, I hope we can share my brother’s story and give support that we can to inspire people to also follow their dreams. He could have done a lot of different things in life. He might have given in to many different pressures in society for having a certain job or living a certain lifestyle. But he stuck with these passions of his and he was very successful in doing those things. So we want to support people that are following a similar path, that are multi-talented or working toward goals in certain areas—adventure filmmaking, writing, photography, music—and also for organizations that are doing amazing things in those same areas toward environmental activism.
It’s really surrounded by the passions that my brother had and to support the dreams that other people have to move toward their passions. When you’re working with that or supporting that—whether it’s me receiving applications or talking to people or whatever it is—people are motivated and excited. If we can have any part in nurturing that, that’s something that’s wonderful.
J.E.M.: There are a lot of mountain culture “adventure film” festivals out there. What makes Adventure Film different?
A.C.: Being in this arena, in this industry for a short time and researching some of the other festivals, I haven’t seen much out there like the Adventure Film Festival. That’s due to the types of films that we show, the type of people that work within Adventure Film. It’s also the community that attends Adventure Film—the non-corporate, non-commercial feeling that it has. It’s very real and I think it’s just something that’s evolved over time based on my brother and people that were involved with the festival since the beginning.
When you go to the Adventure Film Festival, you’re standing right next to the most amazing professional athletes in the world, in the climbing industry in particular. And then on top of that you have all of these unbelievable, most prolific adventure filmmakers in the world. And then go to photography. You have National Geographic photographers. You have all these people who are at the peak. So people are really impressed by that.
It’s been interesting because not being in that climbing world going to Boulder for me is like, Oh yeah, those are my brothers friends. There’s Matt Segal, there’s Lynn Hill, all these people that are just friends of mine it just seems normal to have that kind of relationship. And then other people are just in like shock and awe. That’s something that separates us, the people that attend. It’s definitely the grassroots nature of it. There’s a real soul and spirit to it you can feel when you’re there.
J.E.M.: You’ve got a really exciting lineup of new films. I’m curious to know from you personally, is there anything in particular that you’re excited about?
A.C.: There are few, but I would have to say that my absolute, the film that I’m most excited about is Jeremy Collins’s film The Equation. It’s very different from what he’s done in the past. And just I think it’s amazing. Maybe it won’t be for some people. Some people will love it and others will think that it’s too artsy. But for me I absolutely loved it.
J.E.M: Can you tell me specifically what you liked most about that film?
A.C.: I love the journey that the main character takes. And I love the message of how inspirational it is. I don’t know how he does it, going from fine art to animation to mixed media film to actors in black & white and amazing cinematography. He wrote all the dialog himself and that just blows me away. It’s like that guy’s on another planet. He’s so talented.
Another film that I’m absolutely in love with is a three-minute film called Mr. Toilet. It’s genius. It covers a very serious issue, but also you’re laughing the entire time. It’s unbelievable.
There are so many favorites this year. We have another one of my favorites called In the Middle of Nowhere. It’s 15 minutes and this film was completely shot on this woman’s iPhone. You would never believe it. It is high quality and it’s very well done. It’s different. I won’t give it away, but it’s really amazing.
J.E.M.: You started out this journey for yourself hoping to preserve your brother’s memory and to continue his dream. Is it fair to suggest that Adventure Film is now your dream?
A.C.: Absolutely. I had a conversation early on with family and close friends, kind of dissecting the enormous importance the of the film festival and carrying on my brother’s memory, but also being realistic about questioning whether these are my passions, my dreams. I wasn’t a professional climber. I wasn’t in the outdoor life like my brother was, but my passion for so many years has been art, photography, and film. And also I love what I do which is marketing, business development, and working with entrepreneurs. That’s something I’ve been doing for a long time also so it actually is really nice seeing those things come together and kind of the evolution of where we’ve been able to take it in the last three years, involving more live music, art, photography all these things that I’m very passionate about in addition to the core of the festival which is of course the amazing adventure films.
There have been really wonderful companies, like Patagonia, and a lot of the different sponsors that are supportive and see that they’re making our film festival set apart from everyone else. We’re involving these different amazing people that are creating the most beautiful art work and photography and live music and live performance and dance. It’s definitely taken it into a direction that I think my brother would be so proud of and that I really enjoy and involves both of our passions that have come together even after he’s passed. It’s a beautiful thing.
The Joy Trip Project and coverage of the 2012 Adventure Film Festival are made possible with the support of sponsors Patagonia, Rayovac, and the New Belgium Brewing Company.