No Man’s Land Film Festival promotes women in outdoors, redefines gender norms

Trinady Joslin

No Man’s Land Film Festival aims to redefine what it means to be a woman in the outdoors through a series of short documentaries featuring women doing everything from kayaking and mountain biking to hip-hop dancing outside.

This year, the festival is free and open to students and the greater Austin community. It will be hosted on Thursday, April 11 at 6 p.m. in the Jackson Geological Sciences Building and feature 12 new films centered around women empowerment in the outdoors.

The year-round film festival hosted an event organized by the Outdoor Rec Center last year. 

This year, biology senior Adrienne Loftus, environmental science sophomore Dana Bruhis and geography senior Cheyenne Costello decided to bring back the festival’s presence at UT.

“We were paddling through Boquillas Canyon at Big Bend, and Adrienne was wearing a hat from the film festival, and we had the idea, ‘Let’s do this again,’” Bruhis said. “We were in the middle of the canyon and thought of No Man’s Land and how inspiring it is.”

Loftus, Bruhis and Costello are all members of Longhorn Stream Team, an organization focused on collecting water quality data on Texas rivers and then canoeing those Texas rivers.

Loftus, who joined the org at 19, said she was originally weary of her own canoeing capabilities.

“I learned from the team and from older members that I am capable,” Loftus said. “When I see a scary rapid, I can make a knowledgeable decision and then decide to run it.”

Bringing the festival’s message back to campus was more personal for Loftus, who said she hopes to spread the message and comfort her teammates provided to her.

“Things like climbing or whitewater kayaking that are more male dominated can be an intimidating thing to do,” Loftus said. “You don’t feel welcome in that environment, and it’s so important for women to see that they have a space.” 

While the setup from the previous year remains the same, biology senior Madeline Schill, who attended the festival last year, said she’s excited to see how each woman’s new passion for the outdoors continues to redefine gender norms.

“To have women represented in the outdoors in that way is definitely a change from seeing girls portrayed as soft people,” Schill said. “The woman in these documentaries are really tough and inspiring.”

Schill, who was preparing for Texas 4000, connected to a documentary featuring ultraendurance cyclist Lael Wilcox.

Another notable film from last year was a film titled “Blue,” documenting a 4-year-old girl snow biking in Alaska.

“What I love about this Film Festival is it represents all different ages,” Bruhis said. “‘Blue’ reminded me of myself as a little girl, and that made me really excited.” 

From childhood, Bruhis said she has been both challenged by the outdoors and at peace within it, and hopes to share that feeling through No Man’s Land Film Festival.

“We want to hopefully inspire people to get outside do cool things,” Bruhis said. “Especially people who either are nervous to get outside or haven’t yet and make it a place that’s welcoming and open to all people.”