University of Montana senior Ellie Duncan had never been backpacking longer than a couple nights. When she hiked for 12 days through the Bob Marshall Wilderness last August, it was all caught on camera.
In August 2013, a film crew followed nine UM students in the Wilderness and Civilization program on their journey through the Bob Marshall Wilderness for part of the film “Untrammeled,” premiering in the University Theater tonight.
The idea for the film was born through talks about celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act and continuing to engage young men and women in wilderness.
In September 1964 President Lyndon Johnson signed the Wilderness Act into law. Over 100 million acres of wilderness have been preserved through the law, 3.5 million of which are in Montana.
Joni Packard, volunteer youth & service program coordinator for USDA Forest Service Region 1, said there seems to be fewer young people who know wilderness exists.
“We hope to start the fire in people’s belly for a passion for wilderness,” Packard said.
The 20-minute film is an unscripted production that follows several high school students on a four-day horseback trip through the Bob Marshall Wilderness, and nine UM students on a 12-day backpacking excursion.
Natalie Dawson has been director of the UM Wilderness Institute for the past three years and was in charge of organizing the college students’ involvement in the film.
Dawson said she has seen a downward trend in students enrolling in experiential education programs that get them into the backcountry. Additionally, she said the people using national parks, forests and wilderness areas are largely from an older demographic.
In fall 2010, the Wilderness Institute had to cut its year-long Wilderness and Civilization program into two semester-long chunks, with the hope of attracting more students. The program wasn’t reaching its full capacity of 25 students, and even the change hasn’t bolstered recruiting numbers.
Dawson said her hope is that “Untrammeled” will inspire students to seek out opportunities available in the wilderness. The film watches as the students are changed by the landscape around them. Dawson said she saw them emerge from the wilderness re-inspired for life and excited to learn about wilderness education.
“Now watching them all a semester later down the road, they’re all looking for summer jobs in cool places. I’ve written recommendation letters for them to go all over the place,” Dawson said. “They really have carried that forward in what they’re doing now.”
Duncan, who is majoring in environmental studies and minoring in art, is interning this summer at Lifeline Produce in Victor. When she first heard a film crew would be hiking with them through the backcountry, Duncan worried it would taint their experience. But the two-man film crew integrated well.
She realized on the journey that backcountry wilderness is accessible to anyone with a basic set of skills, and she hopes “Untrammeled” will lead to more people taking advantage of it.
“I hope it opens people’s eyes to the possibilities of spending lots of time in the wilderness,” Duncan said.
Packard hopes to show "Untrammeled" in several venues around Missoula in the next several months. Come summer, the movie will tour the state with Montana musician Jack Gladstone, capping off with a show in McCormick Park on September 20. It will also be shown at Olympia Environmental Film Festival in Olympia, Wash., and the Wild & Scenic Film Festival in Nevada City, Calif.
In a few weeks, Packard hopes to have the whole film on the Forest Service’s YouTube channel.
Packard said the Forest Service is also working on developing curriculum on outdoor education that high school and middle school teachers around the country can teach their classes, accompanied by the film.
With the curriculum, Packard hopes “Untrammeled” will be seen nationwide.
“It is a pretty powerfully transforming experience,” Packard said of the film. “Our hope is with the movie other young people will get out there and not only learn about wilderness but learn about themselves.”
“Untrammeled” premieres on Tuesday at 7:10 p.m. in the University Center Theater, followed by a panel discussion with students featured in the film and a performance by Gladstone.