Showing off — Hunting Film Tour a wealth of production, for better or worse

Written by Steve Schwartz, Lone Star Outdoor News, after attending the Hunting Film Tour event last month.

If the 2014 Hunting Film Tour proves anything, it’s that the hunting industry has caught up to the pack in the realm of outdoor filmmaking.

As a first-time attendee of the film tour, I was skeptical about how the films would stack up with the other outdoor films. Media in the hunting realm doesn’t often receive as much polish and attention as other film-heavy enterprises — i.e. sports laden with Red Bull and The North Face promotions.

It was almost immediately apparent the event, hosted by the Dallas Safari Club’s Young Professionals Group at the Angelika Film Center in Dallas, would offer top-notch production for our viewing pleasure. If anything, as I noted film-after-film in this year’s tour, maybe the industry has plunged a bit too far into the production, resulting in overly-serious and heavy-handed filmmaking. Regardless, it was an entertaining and enlightening two hours, with films that made an obvious impression on the 40 to 50 outdoor enthusiasts who filed into the theater.

The tour nailed the opener. Connected was the first film on-screen, and featured Adam Foss’ quest for a trophy Dall’s sheep in Alaska with a bow. In an ingenious tactic, the film’s dialog was almost entirely showcased through voicemails left between hunters. The audio narrates the preparation, travel and tracking of the beautiful sheep in the alpine environment. The preparation and care that went into ultimately taking down the animal are highlighted, as well as the pressure a hunter feels when a rare drawn hunt is dropped in their lap.

Chasing Cats was on-deck next, detailing houndsman Tyler Johnson’s career tracking large mountain lions in the northern United States. This was one of two mountain lion films (we’ll get to the second one later), and was a simple-yet-enthralling vision as to the majesty of a big cat and the effort and tact needed to get one in a tree — shoot it or not.

I didn’t know it at the time, but Smoke and Feathers turned out to be one of the more refreshing films, and the shortest. It’s a brief three- or four-minute clip of Jim Guffey hunting ducks with a muzzleloader. The production, while top-notch, takes a step back and lets the beautiful birds and environment speak for itself. This film was one I wasn’t ready to be over when the credits rolled.

By the time Game of Inches had gotten past the introductions, it was clear that bowhunting was the major emphasis for this year’s tour. Seven of the nine showcased films were solely about bowhunting. I wasn’t sure if this was a deliberate selection, or if there just weren’t many options in the pot of films for 2014. Either way, Game of Inches beautifully described the story of a born bowhunter and a rifle hunter turned bowhunter, and their path to the woods. It was a clear reminder that, regardless of the method, hunting brings people together and brings out the best of them.

Once again, the next film, 3 to Close, told the story of a Missouri family man traveling to Oregon to chase elk with a bow, and with only three days remaining in the season. The themes were the same — family, legacy, outdoors — but this film thrived in its shots of hunters chasing the elk. There were breathtaking shots of the hunters just a few yards from giant bulls, eventually taking advantage of their tag with only a day remaining in the season.

By the time The Last Chase came into play, I have to admit I needed a break from the overly thoughtful form of filmmaking — this wasn’t the break I was looking for. While obviously well done, the film once again outlined a northern U.S. bowhunter chasing mountain lions with his hound, Hottie. The action began to drag with more and more introspective talk, and less and less relief. It was tough to imagine why the selection committee decided to throw two productions into the tour that were so similar.

Following a well-needed intermission, the audience was treated to Into October. While it had the least-professional production overall, it was refreshing to see Bryan Huskey and Adam Haarberg chase bighorn sheep with rifles along the banks of the gorgeous Deschute River (they even had a shot of a giant trout for us fishermen). This was the first movie that even attempted humor (and this one was funny), and poked fun at the other sponsor-laden films by ending with “Nope, no sponsors” as the credits rolled. It was a highlight to laugh along with the other members of the audience at one of the most surprisingly enjoyable films of the tour, even if it wasn’t as polished as its counterparts.

Now, back to the bowhunting. The Road to Gredos took us across the Atlantic to Spain, showcasing Jose Castresana’s effort to be the first Spaniard to accomplish the Spanish Ibex grand slam with a bow (Gredos Spanish Ibex, Beceite Spanish Ibex, Southeastern Spanish Ibex and Ronda Spanish Ibex). This addition to the tour had a great international flair, and a decidedly different tone compared to the other films. Narrated by Castresana, the subject matter did a great job of drawing a picture of the Gredos region of Spain, and definitely had me wanting to buy a plane ticket.

The final film in the tour was Untamed. Once more a bowhunting showcase, Clay Hayes showed off his skill at the woodworking table crafting traditional bows, as well as his prowess in the field with the dated weapon. As a fly-fisherman, I could definitely relate to the production’s message: It’s not what you are hunting, it’s how you hunt it. Hayes had beautiful footage from blinds, including some great shots of whitetails from an aerial perspective.

Overall, the tour for me was predominately positive, proving the hunting media industry has taken great strides in the past few years in terms of production. I appreciated that most of the entries took care when showing kill shots, but also didn’t try and dance around it — hunting is hunting. The filmmakers, at times, seemed to have too much influence on the product, making some of the impacts a bit too heavy-handed and redundant. But for those who attended, it was everything they were looking for: beautiful environments, intriguing subject matter, diverse animals and some of the coolest hunts you could ever imagine.