Award-winning filmmaker returns to Olympia

jeff.mayor@thenewstribune.comDecember 29, 2013 

national geographic live series While Bryan Smith was a student at The Evergreen State College in the late-1990s, he would go on long multiday backpacking trips.

It was there, amid the deep forests, remote coastal beaches and soaring mountains, that the Michigan native deepened his appreciation for wilderness and honed his passion for adventure. Today, Smith has become an award-winning adventure filmmaker, traveling the world filming television shows and documentary films for National Geographic.

Now 37 years old, Smith will return to Olympia on Jan. 10 to kick off the 2014 National Geographic Live speaker series.

“Evergreen was amazing for me. Evergreen taught me if you put your mind to something you can do it,” Smith said. “It was certainly the roots for thinking outside the box and having the willingness to try something that you have that passion about.

“Evergreen was the beginning of getting into the wilderness deeper than I ever had before. I started to see firsthand that this is our world, this is what is out there,” he added.

After graduating in 1997 with a Bachelor of Arts degree with an emphasis in environmental studies, Smith lived in the San Juan Islands for several years. It was there he cultivated a passion for kayaking and eventually picked up a camera.

“My roots are in kayaking, sea kayaking and whitewater,” he said. “I was totally inspired by these places I would see. So I picked up a camera and started filming.”

Today, Smith said he is more filmmaker than adventurer. But that doesn’t mean his shoots are not without risk.

When interviewed earlier this month, Smith was en route from his Squamish, B.C., home to Canmore, Alberta. He and his crew were going to film a group of ice climbers.

“This shoot is a perfect example. We will have to be able to dance around in the same terrain the athletes are participating in,” he said.

The difficulty comes in managing everything going on and ensuring everyone is safe.

“We also have the risk of not coming back with the shot, what we expected. That’s a lot of pressure. You have to learn to manage expectations without taking too big of a risk,” Smith said.

His Olympia program, “The Lens of Adventure,” will tell the backstory of how Smith became an adventurer, about his taking risks and being rewarded for those risks. He will also share some of his favorite work, including a trip to Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula and the National Geographic documentary “The Man Who Can Fly.”

He called the Kamchatka Peninsula “one of the latest really wild places on earth.” While there, he filmed an episode of the TV show “Monster Fish,” filming host Zeb Hogan fishing for large salmon.

“We were there to travel the rivers on kayak, but also to tell the story of the salmon there. They are some of the last great rums of wild salmon,” Smith said.

In “The Man Who Can Fly,” Smith and his crew filmed rock climber and base jumper Dean Potter on an expedition to free- climb the massive peaks of Canada’s Mount Butte.

In those, and all his other work, Smith said he tries to leave the viewer with a message.

“In filmmaking, the story is the main thing. It’s easy to sustain an audience for several minutes with adrenaline-pumping action shots,” he said. “Working with National Geographic, I’ve learned you have to sustain the audience for an hour.”

His first documentary, “49 Megawatts,” is a good example. While it received acclaim for its kayaking footage, Smith also was praised for looking at the controversy of British Columbia’s river-based energy production.

“Sometime it’s a simple message, but there is always a message or theme we are trying to explore.”

For Smith, much of what he is and has accomplished began with the lessons he learned during those college-day treks across the Olympic Peninsula.

“What I learned more than anything, it is important to step a little out of your comfort zone,” Smith said. “When you do, it strips away some of the access, some of the things you don’t need.” The National Geographic Live Series

When: Jan. 10 from 7:30-9:30 p.m.

Where: The Washington Center for Preforming Arts, 512 Washington St. SE, Olympia

Future speakers: Other speakers will be bear expert and wildlife advocate Casey Anderson presenting “Bear with Me” on Feb. 7, and 43-year veteran photographer Sam Abell presenting “The Photographic Life” on March 7.

Tickets: $18-$26 for adults; $16-$23 for students, seniors and military; and $9-$13 for youth. Service fees might apply. They are available online or at the box office.

Information: washingtoncenter.org for tickets and reelwaterproductions.com to learn more about Smith.

Jeffrey P. Mayor: 253-597-8640 jeff.mayor@thenewstribune.com thenewstribune.com/outdoors

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