LISA SAMFORD, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF THE JACKSON HOLE WILDLIFE FILM FESTIVAL, BEGAN HER CAREER AS A JOURNALIST, BUT AFTER SHE SPENT A DECADE WORKING IN THE NEWSPAPER INDUSTRY, HER INTEREST TURNED TO FILM.
“My boyfriend was a cameraman and he was having so many great adventures,” Samford says. “I was just drawn to it.”
So Samford packed up her life and moved to Los Angeles to try her hand in the film industry. She produced documentaries featuring a wide array of subjects ranging from World War II spies, to murderers in the toughest maximum security prisons in the U.S. Then one project changed her life forever.
“I spent a week with the Dalai Lama on a three-person film crew,” Samford says. “You can’t be in his presence without being deeply, irrevocably different afterward. All of those crime and violence movies were completely overshadowed by one week in the presence of holy bliss.”
In 1993, Samford attended her first Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival, which local filmmaker Wolfgang Bayer started two years earlier. Bayer had regularly attended a wildlife film conference in Bristol, England, and he wanted to bring wildlife filmmakers to Jackson so he could share the beauty and inspirational landscape with them.
Samford soon began helping with conference programming. Then, after an upcoming documentary project was canceled, she attended the 2001 conference.
“Timing is everything,” Samford says. “The festival needed a new executive director, and I was looking for a great reason to stay in Jackson Hole.”
The Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival originally began as a private industry conference for filmmakers, producers, and media distributors to come together for a week of seminars, panels, and film screenings. Since its early years, it has evolved into an organization making a global impact on wildlife, conservation, and education.
Three years ago, the organization added a conservation summit at the beginning of the festival to introduce researchers and conservationists to the filmmakers. The organization recently expanded to include the Jackson Hole WILD Festival, which provides an opportunity for the public to attend screenings of the films and other events. They also launched the Science Media Awards and Summit in Boston, as well as Jackson Hole Wild On Tour, bringing the award-winning films on the road.
The festival is also working with the United Nations to use films to help inspire conservation around the world, including the International Elephant Film Festival and a similar effort focused on wild cats. All of these events help the Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival raise awareness of important wildlife issues and encourage people to act.
“Our goal for the organization is to use media as a tool to connect people with the natural world,” Samford says.