Photo credit: Unstoppable Film Festival

OWNYOUR Media Unstoppable Film Festival: Q&A With the Founders

OWNYOUR Media is a BIPOC-owned media company specializing in digital outdoor and adventure film festivals.

Last week, we sat with OWNYOUR Media co-founders Mikhail Martin and Asia Irons to get a behind-the-scenes look at this newly formed company, and how their upcoming Unstoppable Film Festival this winter sheds light on stories overlooked in the outdoor industry.

OWNYOUR Media was founded in the summer of 2020. The coronavirus pandemic, the surge of protests following the murder of the late George Floyd, and the constant battle for equity in the outdoor industry inspired Mikhail Martin, the company’s co-founder, to create an opportunity for long-lasting change in the industry.

With the expertise of a hardworking business student Asia Irons and talented designer Andy Lu, he formed a game-changing media company. And the Unstoppable Film Festival was underway.

OWNYOUR Media’s Unstoppable Film Festival’s mission is to share the work, stories, and adventures of BIPOC in the outdoors. The film festival will take place exclusively on their online platform on December 12, with feature films split into multiple sessions.

OWNYOUR Media: Q&A With the Founders

GearJunkie: Why have you chosen film to be your medium to support the BIPOC community?

Mikhail Martin: When you use film, your messages can get across. I think that’s why Brothers of Climbing was able to grow like it did. We had this film at REI and it would be shown at film festivals. With film, “seeing is believing.” It made it real that there are people of color rock climbing. Everyone expected that POC that were rock climbing were day passers and didn’t have much investment in the community. Film can go viral with tools like YouTube and Vimeo.

Asia Irons: Film is an amazing expression of art. It’s one of the most important mediums. You don’t have to go anywhere and be in the comfort of your own home. It’s something that we need during this time.

Own Your Media: Mikhail & Asia
Mikhail Martin (left) and Asia Irons (right); photo credit: Andy Lu

Can you give us some insight into how the name for the company came to be?

Irons: Media is a great way to express your thoughts and your feelings, and we should own it. The communities of color have been overlooked for too long. The name OWNYOUR Media came from wanting to focus on ownership. We control this medium and designate where it goes and who it goes to.

Martin: If you look at most of the climbing media that depicts the stories of POC, they’re usually backed by some big company. Usually, a POC signs up for a program or a filmmaker comes to them. Usually someone white is involved from production, editing, all of that. Sometimes they give you a review of the whole story, but at the end of the day, we’re not behind the lens. We’re hoping that through the work here, we can not only show films but foster the next generation of filmmakers.

Part of that is going to be our grant programs that we want to get started. With that, hopefully we can allow POC to be able to give them the full control to put it in any film festival they want.

We saw the success of “The Dawn Wall” and “Free Solo.” Those films are being played in film festivals, Netflix, airplanes. We want to be able to share our stories and make it beneficial to us in the end.

Unstoppable Film Festival

The name for the Unstoppable Film Festival seems to have a great message behind it. What was the inspiration behind the name?

Irons: The name of the festival was originally Been Here. We wanted to give off the message that “we’ve been here and we aren’t going anywhere.” Another brand had a similar name established, and we got together and felt it was best for us to change our name. It was important to let the community know that we’re listening to them.

We wanted the new name of the festival to have the same message, and to let people know that members of our community should not be overlooked.

Martin: In addition to that, we want to give the message that as a community, we are unstoppable. 2020 and this pandemic have caused many people to go through a lot of different things. A lot of us are doing our best and working on taking care of each other. We’re gonna be here and do the things that make us happy and push us forward.

The overall message is [positivity] and forward-thinking. We hope that through this festival, we can encourage people to be unstoppable. If we can get people to believe they’re unstoppable, who knows what can come from that.

How did Andy Lu and Esther-Clare Dionisio get on board?

Martin: One day we went climbing. [He was] a mutual friend. I know that Andy has a lot of work and experience in design, and he started his own clothing line in NYC. Really loved it. I saw his talent. He did a lot of photography for Color the Crag.

I know Esther has done a ton of community work and is a chapter leader of Brown Girls Climb. [And] she did a lot of community building at my local gym. You want people with a certain skill set, but at the core what is needed is a shared belief.

All of us really believe in bettering the outdoor industry for our communities. It also helps that they’re amazing at what they do.

Unstoppable: Esther & Andy
Esther Dionisio (left) and Andy Lu (right); photo credit: Andy Lu

What are you looking for when it comes to film submissions to this online film festival?

Irons: Our criteria are pretty broad. The films have to be produced by a BIPOC group or share a story of a BIPOC individual or team. It can be animated, fictional, or nonfictional. We definitely want to share stories that are not highlighted in the outdoor community.

Martin: In terms of content, we’re targeting the outdoor industry and outdoor community. It can involve skiing or climbing, but we have to reflect on 2020. For a lot of us, we’ve been under quarantine, so the action we’ve been seeing has been in the protests. In addition to outdoor recreation, any adventure is fair game for this festival.

Adventure to us can look like a lot of things. That’s the reason why I think film festivals can be better. They only focus on outdoor recreation, when there are other avenues we can go down.

How can the outdoor community support this film festival and the next gen of filmmakers?

Martin: The easiest way is to support us is to submit a film through our FilmFreeway. In addition to that, buying a ticket and supporting the film festival. Showing up is as simple as getting a ticket and letting people know about it.

If we can have enough support, it’s easier for us to get support from different brands and help get grants to support BIPOC filmmakers in our community.

Irons: It would also be really helpful to sign up for our newsletter, where we continuously give updates on the film festival. The community has already been super supportive. We’ll do everything we can to give back through these programs and grants.

Martin: Once we get an idea of what’s available, [we’ll] be able to put up applications for our community and get them out there.

Unstoppable Film Festival
Photo credit: Andy Lu

I saw that Evolv and Brain Dead are your supporters. How did you connect with such well-respected brands?

Martin: Evolv has been a huge supporter of all the events and projects we’ve worked on in the past. A lot of people don’t realize that the founder of Evolv is a POC (Brian Chung). We usually keep in touch. Brian [Chung] and Ashima [Shiraishi] had reached out to me and asked, What was new? What are we working on?

I had this idea for the film festival and pitched them the idea. They let us know about this partnership they were doing with Brain Dead. It’s a custom edition climbing shoe that supports groups serving BIPOC communities. They [ended up giving] us our seed to see this thing happen!

A lot of people feel like you have to be a special entity to reach out to these companies. When I first started Color the Crag, I went to Outdoor Retailer and just started networking. We can all do it; it just takes some effort. For people in the community who are trying to get in, I’m always willing to help.

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Asia, how has being a student at the Howard School of Business helped you with starting this BIPOC-led media company?

Irons: The Howard School of Business has shown me what it means to connect to many business owners and brands. I’ve been on retreats and spoken with brand owners and executives. They taught me how to use my resources. I think that’s been really helpful.

Especially with Brian, it was really easy to communicate with him. We are all working towards our goals and people want to help those that don’t have the same level of access. OWNYOUR Media has taught me what it takes to start a business, and what I need to do on the back end to support BIPOC.

Why do you think the Unstoppable Film Festival is needed now?

Martin: We want to create the change we want to see. I don’t think the change we want to see is going to start happening until we start owning our mediums. That was one of the things that pushed me to start Brothers of Climbing. Don’t wait!

I feel that we need more people building things than just waiting for things to happen. If we do want to wait for companies to build it, it’ll take a long time.

Unstoppable Film Festival
Photo credit: Andy Lu

Are there any films in general that have had a positive impact on your lives? Any films that give people an idea of what it means to be Black or a POC in society?

Martin: Marie-Louise Nkashama’s recent film. We met at the Banff film festival. We both live in New York, but we met in Canada. She was telling me about a film she was working on called, “The Traveler Comes Home.” She was returning to Congo. And she’s going back to tell her story, her connection with her family.

When she was telling me about that project, I thought that was dope, because it’s more than outdoor recreation. It’s a POC making this film and it’s based on their story. I’d love to see more of that.

There’s also this film called Climb Your Dreams with Raheim Robinson. It was only a 3-minute film that really had a great reception. I think for me, it was the feeling of seeing people give an ovation to this film about a Black climber.

Irons: I don’t have any specific films, but during 2020 I’ve been on Twitter watching people’s videos of what is happening on the streets. It’s really inspiring to see people fighting for what they believe in.

It’s important that we see more of this: Giving these films [a] home and [giving everyone] an opportunity to see these stories.

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Amath Diouf

Amath is a Black Muslim outdoor enthusiast who loves to hear and tell stories. He's currently pursuing an MBA with a concentration in marketing. When he's not baking cookies, longboarding, climbing, or taking naps, you can find him writing about the stories that make up the outdoor community.