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Nicholas LaPenna | 09.15.2017

When photographer and filmmaker Nick LaPenna reached out to us asking if we could help share his upcoming project with our community, it didn't take much convincing for us to say yes. It's been a whirlwind of a year in the outdoor industry, full of Zinke headlines on National Monuments and the continuing fight over public lands. We try our best, now more then ever, to educate, raise awareness, and share inspiration for ethical and accessible outdoor adventure; Nick's film nails all three of these on the head in seamless fashion.

We're of the conviction here that no one can tell the story behind an idea better than the creator, and so we asked Nick to take it from here...make sure to check out his trailer and an in-depth Q&A with him below!

"Whose Lands is a short film about our natural, wild, open places that we are fortunate enough to call ours. Over 26 percent of land in the United States is protected by the federal government. There is dissenting thought that they are taking the land from the people, when in actuality they are protecting it for the people.

The film highlights our public lands as what they are – a national treasure for all to enjoy. I spent about four weeks out west in two different stints. The first was covering the Pacific Northwest and its coastline, the other in Colorado, Utah and Arizona. I chose these locations in part because of their place in the current news cycle (Bear’s Ears, Escalante, etc.) but also because these states have some of the highest percentage of public land.

There was so much for me to explore and dive into, and they each hold a special meaning to me. It was A LOT of work, way more than I ever expected. There were only four days out of almost 30 that I had another person with me. I spent majority of the time alone, setting up shots, scouting locations and unfortunately getting my car out of ditches.

It is easy to let your self-motivated and  self funded project fall by the wayside when you are in these incredible places and want to do everything they have to offer. No one is holding you to a schedule or standards. Certainly there were times I put the camera away and enjoyed myself. But I think ultimately it will show exactly what I want it to – a raw, unfiltered look at an overland journey on our public lands." - Nick LaPenna


We'll have to wait a few more months for the full film, but in the meantime we 'sat down' with Nick to learn more about him, his journey, and what's next on his bucket list...

Q: Where did the idea for Whose Lands come from? Was there a specific moment, location, trip, or event that spurred the project?

Nick LaPenna: In 2015 I drove across country to move to LA on a whim. During the drive, I stopped in a little town I had never heard of – Moab, Utah. I fell in love. I spent the past two years finding excuses to go back out west and visit these wild, natural places.

After two action packed years in destinations like Banff, Iceland and New Zealand, I decided to go back to D.C. and get a corporate job. I spent eight weeks sitting at a desk with a clean shave and a suit and tie, looking out the window and remembering what my life had been. It sounds dramatic, but it was a really tough time for me. I felt I had given up a life of exploration, adventure, and passion for a life filled with cold calls, fluorescent lights and dress codes. I was unrecognizable to myself.

I had a chance encounter with Chris Burkard at his screening for his film “Under an Arctic Sky,” and he said something that really turned my life around. He said that his role as a photographer is to show people these beautiful places so that they can appreciate them the way they should be appreciated. My girlfriend and I walked home that night from the premiere and I was completely rattled. I would be lying if I said I didn't cry. I felt I needed to make a change and make a change immediately.

I knew I wanted to use the camera to tell stories, it’s what I’ve wanted to do for quite some time now. I wanted to tell the people I interact with everyday how special these places are. On the east coast, at least where I’ve grown up, there is virtually no tie to public lands, and I wanted to change that even if it was the 1,000 friends or so I have on Facebook.

So over the course of two or three weeks, with some help from people in the industry, I came up with the idea to travel to our public lands out west and document the experience, but also have a strong message behind it that these are places we need to cherish for future generations.

Q: What is your ultimate goal from creating Whose Lands?

Nick LaPenna: I think my ultimate goal with Whose Lands is truly just getting people involved that wouldn’t normally be. I want to reach people who have no idea about public lands, have never heard of Mount Rainier or even the state of Utah for that matter. I want people to see it and think to themselves next time they hear Jason Chaffetz on Fox News, “Hey, that guy is so wrong. What does he think he is doing with my lands!”

I have started saying #whoselands #theymine #theyyours in all of my posts. Recently, I saw a friend out in D.C. and the first thing she said to me was “Hey! Whose Lands?” and her friend said “They mine!” – I just about melted.

Q: What is one of the most memorable moments from your time on this project?

Nick LaPenna: This doesn't have to do much with the mission of the film, but it is important nonetheless...

I took the ferry from Bainbridge to Seattle and met a guy named Miltos. He was the most caring, thoughtful, engaging person I had ever come across. This was the night of the Charlottesville riots, and I wasn't feeling great about humanity. Miltos invited me to his home where I shared a lot of my work and a lot of wine and laughs. I stayed for 6 hours and now consider him a great friend. I was alone for 95 percent of the trip, and a total stranger made me feel like a part of his family. I will cherish that day forever.

Q: If viewers were to take one thing away from your film, what would you like it to be?

Nick LaPenna: I want people to realize how much open space there is for them to enjoy. I think a lot of the time vacations include a beach in Florida, or Atlantis or some all inclusive resort.And those are great, dont get me wrong. But it's not like you can't have a relaxing vacation in the wild. An open fire next to an alpine lake as the sun goes down is as relaxing as it gets. I want people to finish watching it and when they go to book a vacation, they think about the film and instead of a week at a resort, they head out to Oregon for a week in the Hood National Forest, or even to the more notable places like Yosemite and Zion.

If I get even 10 people to book a trip out west to use their public lands, that’s 10 more people who will be more in tune with conservation and environmental issues moving forward.

Q: What can the average person do to make a difference in the fight to protect public lands?

Nick LaPenna: The biggest impact one can make in our fight for public lands is simple – call your representatives. My roommate is a staffer on the Hill and he will tell you, if you bombard that office with calls and requests, your elected representative will hear you. It doesn't mean you will get your way, but it is the way our democracy is setup to hear the public’s concerns.

Another way to fight for our lands is to support companies who are active in their defense of conservation and the environment. The outdoor industry is now worth over 800 billion dollars, and with companies like Patagonia leading the charge we can make a big difference in legislation.

Q: What’s next for you?

Nick LaPenna: Well I’ve had a big shift in my life since taking this on. I plan on continuing to create work that I am passionate about. These creative pursuits are not just a phase for me, but rather what I would like to do with my life. I plan on remaining incredibly active in our fight for public lands, while also exploring different projects. A few of my friends who are big time surfers have mentioned another overland trip, but possibly in Cuba. I’d like to do a short film about the pond hockey culture in Canada. Me and my two best friends are looking to summit Rainier early next year too. I want to continue to push myself creatively, athletically, and spiritually and tell stories that inspire people.


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