Four Colorado State University students worked with professional filmmakers last spring to create a documentary about conservation and inspiring figures working toward equitable outdoor access for everyone in Colorado. Their short film, Elevating Voices, premiered in Fort Collins and Denver earlier this year.

The project, a collaboration between the Salazar Center for North American Conservation and Next 100 Colorado, was funded by the Gates Family Foundation. With the support of professionals from RELIGHT Creative, four students from three different colleges – Caroline Baker, Warner College of Natural Resources; Sydney Collins, College of Natural Sciences; and Adriana Gallegos and Abigail Narvaez, College of Liberal Arts – produced, filmed, and edited the documentary.

Elevating Voices highlights the experiences of Coloradans working toward conservation who have traditionally been marginalized in that space.

“This documentary aims to get viewers acquainted with BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color) members of the community doing vital work in the conservation sector,” said Baker, a recent graduate. “Many times, BIPOC people are the ones on the frontlines making the most difference, but they continue to be largely overlooked. We want to shed more light on this persistent, albeit slowly changing, trend.”

Alma Rosie Sanchez, a Colorado organizer with WildEarth Guardians and co-chair on the Next 100 leadership team, is interviewed for the Elevating Voices documentary.

Access for all

Students were mentored by members of Next 100 Colorado, a coalition working to improve access to the Colorado outdoors for all.

“People haven’t had the same access to the outdoors,” said Jerry Otero, co-chair of Next 100’s storytelling group. “In the wonderful state we live in, we want to improve that. Not only does that improve the outcomes for those people who have access to the outdoors, it improves our whole state, our brand, our tax dollars, so it’s a win-win-win.”

The students were inspired by their mentors’ experiences and reflections and decided to make them the focus of the film. The creative endeavor required them to adapt and shift to a more holistic perspective, similar to conservation work, Baker said.

Baker, who was studying conservation leadership in graduate school while working on the documentary, was interested in learning how to make natural science more accessible.

“In order to bring messages of sustainability to a wider audience, equitable conservation communication is important,” she said.

Universal themes

The project’s partners were impressed with the students’ effort, ability, and finished product. They are excited to share the film with audiences.

“I would hope that viewers would approach the film with an open mind and put any assumptions aside, knowing these are real experiences of real people,” said Carlos Malache, RELIGHT Creative’s founder and director of photography, who worked with the students.

Baker said she hopes the documentary’s universal themes resonate with viewers.

“Environmental health is human health and vice versa,” she said. “Conservation issues are universal, and they’re in our collective best interest to prioritize. This means understanding that the people who can best lead long-term sustainable solutions are the ones who are most connected to the environment we aim to protect.