To cast a line from his Scott fly rod is to enjoy a perfect moment for Travis Rummel, who loves spending his days fishing for trout on the South Platte River. To see everything from the lakes and rivers of Colorado to the pristine beauty of Bristol Bay, Alaska, through the lens of his Panasonic HVX200 is to enjoy life through his favorite artistic medium.
For Rummel, fly-fishing and photography are passions that have consumed most of his adult life. The 30 year old never expected to meld his two loves into an environmental crusade to save some fish.
Rummel is the co-founder of Felt Soul Media, makers of environmentally-friendly documentaries whose latest film Red Gold premiered in May at Telluride’s Mountainfilm Festival winning both the Audience and Festival Director awards. Rummel and cohort Ben Knight partnered with Alaska Trout Unlimited to document an environmental dilemma in Bristol Bay.
“Environmental documentaries are pretty dry and boring for the most part, but film really has the power to make conservation sexy, take people on journeys they would never go on, and introduce them to issues they would never be aware of,” Rummel says. “Especially with Alaska, the biggest issue with conservation is that people don’t know about it, and we have gone a long way to raise awareness…”
Red Gold explores the battle between miners and commercial fisherman working the world’s largest salmon fishery in Bristol Bay. The film hones in on the question of what is a more valuable resource; the self-sustaining runs of salmon that have been around for thousands of years and enrich the local environment, or the billions of dollars worth of minerals buried at the headwaters. Rummel says he and Knight wanted to paint a portrait of a beautiful place that could be ruined forever.
Filmed from a fisherman’s perspective and using a micro-level understanding of a fish biosphere gained through the years of working the river, the two say they are acutely aware of the potential threat that this open-pit mine could have on the fisheries and the entire local ecosystem.
Despite the inherent differences between commercial fisherman and those who practice catch and release, such as Rummel, the film shows the deep love they all harbor for fishing.
“You see the spark in their eyes that they love to fish,” the filmmaker says. “Whether it was a sport fishing guide catching and releasing rainbows or a commercial fisherman harvesting 11,000 pounds of sockeye in a single day—everyone had tremendous love for the fishery, and they all want to see it protected and managed for perpetuity.”
Rummel, who lives in a bungalow in Northwest Denver, caught the itch to make films while living in Telluride working as a fly-fishing guide and a photographer for The Daily Planet. It was here that he met Knight, discovered their complementary skill sets and decided to make a film for the festival.
Rummel interviews and produces, while Knight films and edits.
While getting paid to fish has always been a primary career motivator, traveling opened his eyes to environmental issues.
“It got to a point where (traveling) began feeling a little too hedonistic,” Rummel says. “I decided that I wanted to continue traveling, but to make it project oriented where I could interact with locals on a more purposeful level. Hence the documentary filmmaking career, I guess.”
Filming and crusading for salmon is a long, arduous process. But at the end of the day, spending a year on the project, knowing it can make a difference in a few hour-long screenings makes it all worth it.
Well that and the job’s fringe benefits.
“It is sometimes hard to say I need a vacation when I just fished for 10 weeks in Alaska,” Rummel says.
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