If you’re a stamp collector, then you know who James Balog is.
Balog, who will be honored at this year’s fourth-annual Boulder Environmental / Nature / Outdoors Film Festival (ENOFF), was the first-ever photographer to be commissioned by the U.S. Postal Service to create a full set of stamps.
Released in 1997, the iconic 15-stamp sheet features photos that Balog captured of animals found on the United States Fish and Wildlife Service endangered species list, including stunning portraits of the Florida panther, Hawaiian monk seal and the Wyoming toad.
Unsurprisingly, Balog is not just a hero within the philatelist community — he is also known for his work documenting major global events for some of the top publications in the world, including National Geographic, The New Yorker and Vanity Fair. His photography is the star, muse and subject of two award-winning films “Chasing Ice” and “The Human Element.” Balog, the director and founder of the Earth Vision Institute and the Extreme Ice Survey, is also the author of more than nine books depicting crucial ecological issues.
He’s an all-around environmentalist — who just so happens to call Boulder home. A jewel in Boulder’s crown, one could say.
Balog’s name will be attached to yet another achievement — this weekend he will be honored as the inaugural recipient of the Earth Angel award at Boulder ENOFF.
Although Balog has received numerous accolades, including an Emmy Award and a Sundance Award for cinematography, he said that receiving the Earth Angel award remains an honor and a privilege.
“This might be the first time since I was a little boy that anyone has ever called me an angel,” Balog said, laughing. “No, it’s very flattering, and I’m inspired by it, and delighted for it.”
The Earth Angel statuette was created to honor individuals in the community who have demonstrated acute awareness and continued dedication toward the Earth and the environment. Though festival organizers have attempted to hand out this award years prior, the pandemic and other setbacks delayed the ceremonies — until now.
“Balog was the perfect candidate to receive this award, given for the first time,” said Richard Paradise, ENOFF’s festival director. “We’d very much like to make the Earth Angel Award an annual thing, but I couldn’t think of someone better to be the first person at Boulder ENOFF to set the precedent. Balog’s films, especially ‘Chasing Ice,’ are iconic.”
“Chasing Ice” was released in 2012, and was based on Balog’s extensive and groundbreaking research on the planet’s rapidly receding glaciers. Before “Chasing Ice,” Balog’s artistic vehicle was mainly through photography, but then film changed that.
“I wanted to work in a different medium that could touch audiences in a different way,” Balog said. “And really, basically, as I look back over the long arc of my working life — which is now almost 45 years in image making, I’m a storyteller.”
The fourth-annual Boulder ENOFFA kicked off Thursday and will run through Sunday. Balog will be in good company as several directors, cinematographers and fellow storytellers will visit the Dairy Arts Center for a celebration of environmental filmmaking.
Since its inception in 2019, the Boulder ENOFF has showcased films from creators from all over the world, highlighting a number of serious issues facing not just the planet, but humankind as well.
In recent years, Boulder has emerged as an up-and-coming hub for environmental filmmaking, attracting talented filmmakers and enthusiasts from around the world. With its breathtaking natural surroundings and a community deeply committed to environmental stewardship, Boulder provides an ideal backdrop for filmmakers seeking to tell compelling stories about our planet’s challenges and solutions — and Balog agrees.
“There has been a remarkable amount of high-quality documentary filmmaking that has come out of the Denver/Boulder area, considering the size of these towns and the fact that we don’t have a long history of there being a filmmaking community like there is in L.A. or New York,” Balog said. “There has been a lot of good work that’s coming out of this community, and I have been saying to people — there really should be a film about that.”
The Boulder ENOFF perhaps encapsulates that creative filmmaking spirit in the most Boulder way possible — with a film festival that exclusively celebrates love and dedication to the great outdoors.
This year’s lineup consists of more than eight full-length films, as well as several film shorts. From a breathtaking documentary capturing the wonders of Texas’ unique ecosystems in “Deep in the Heart,” to a thought-provoking narrative shedding light on the taboo surrounding nuclear energy in “Nuclear Now,” the festival’s film lineup is carefully curated to captivate and inspire audiences.
Of all the screenings in the lineup, Balog said he is looking forward to seeing one in particular: “Patrick and the Whale,” which will also be featured as the festival’s closing film. Directed by Patrick Dykstra, the gorgeously shot documentary submerges viewers deep into the ocean, where the award-winning marine cameraman Dykstra attempts to understand and befriend the complex creature, the sperm whale.
To check out the entire lineup for the Boulder ENOFF, and to purchase tickets, visit boulderenoff.org.