The light-bulb moment came for Brenda Piekarski on June 4, 2011, after a series of conversations with friends who live out West. The freelance videographer and avid climber was tired of defending the Minnesota outdoor adventure scene to out-of-staters. It suddenly occurred to her that she could be the one to disprove the naysayers — those who thought of Minnesota as oceanless, mountainless and cold year-round.
“I finally decided I wanted to make a film to prove that it’s gorgeous here and there are amazing people doing amazing things,” she said.
The result of that notion was the Adventure Minnesota Films project. With a goal to showcase a broad spectrum of outdoor adventure in Minnesota, she planned a four-part series of 20-minute films dubbed “Among the Wild.”
Her first film, which was released last fall, chronicled the 2013 edition of the Arrowhead 135 — an ultra-race that pits bicyclists, runners and skiers against 135 frozen miles of remote wilderness terrain between International Falls and Lake Vermilion.
The film was well-received at screenings and adventure film festivals around the state, nation and even abroad. Now, Piekarski, 37, is at work Up North scouting and shooting her next two films about rock climbing and white-water kayaking, respectively.
In a recent interview, Piekarski talked about venturing into the world of independent filmmaking, the role outdoor adventure has played in her own life and why it has become important for her to share it with an audience.
On the inspiration she garners from climbing
It’s about the camaraderie and the community. It’s the trying something you’re not comfortable with, but doing it anyway. It’s succeeding when you get to the top, or failing and realizing it’s not going to kill you, and then trying it again until you get it. It’s coming back home after climbing and feeling refreshed. I feel like if you’re going to have a busy, stressful life, you need a way to cope with it. If you’re out exercising in nature with friends, I really can’t think of anything better — these are all the best ways to deal with stress.
On the local outdoors scene
I love the outdoor community here. I think it’s very tight knit, from climbers to kayakers to bikers. It’s pretty cool. … It’s just about going out and doing it.
On outdoor adventure in Minnesota
With Adventure Minnesota Films, I started out wanting to prove to the rest of the world we have an outdoor scene going on here, but it turned into showing people here in Minnesota that we have things going on. The more I talked to people, the more I realized that people, including me, didn’t know these things were happening. It’s been a constant eye opener — gravel bike racing, fat bikes, mountain biking, adventure racing, the endurance scene — there’s so much. These films are a way to expose people to these things and get them to try something new right in their own backyard.
On learning the power of storytelling
It really does connect and inspire people. I feel like we’ve made a difference. One of the main goals of the project is to bring together our adventure community across all these different sports because we’re all like-minded. There’s a lot of support and healing that goes on when you’re part of a community, and I think it’s really cool to bring people together like that.
On the location for her next film about rock climbing
“Jeff’s World’ is actually in Canada — 5 miles past the border — but you have to access it through Crane Lake, and then you go through Canadian customs on a remote island. You have to take a boat to get there and then hike in a half a mile to the crag. Jeff [Engel] is the guy who developed it all because his parents have a home nearby on a lake and his dad has a float plane, so when he was flying around and saw all these cliff lines he told Jeff about them. For the last 15 years, Jeff’s been up there by himself developing all these cliff lines and bolting these routes, and hardly anyone has been there because it’s hard to get to and nobody knows about it. It’s an amazing place.
Mackenzie Lobby Havey is a freelance writer. She lives in Minneapolis.