Leave No Trace: The Movie and the Movement

Boulder, Colorado: Recently, the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics staff ventured away from our desks to catch a matinee showing of a film with the familiar-sounding title. Leave No Trace the movie is a compelling story in which Ben Foster and Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie play a father and daughter living in self-imposed exile, camping and foraging on the outskirts of civilization.

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Living in a tent and keeping quiet in the woods—how could a summer movie be better aligned with the Leave No Trace movement and the Center’s work, right?

Actually, that’s not quite the case.

The story is told movingly, and shot wonderfully, by director Debra Granik. While some of the subject matter is superficially related to the work we do at the Center, at its heart Leave No Trace has little to do with the Leave No Trace program and movement. Sure, the characters are immersed in nature and are highly tuned into the forest they call home. But the real focus is on revealing the dynamic between the caring, but troubled, father and the daughter who is discovering her own identity.

Ultimately, the forests and nature scenes in the movie are props. The dramatic tension of the film doesn’t dissipate at all when the scene shifts to an abandoned boxcar, or a small house that the characters try inhabiting.

The crucial difference between the Leave No Trace organization and the work we do and the film that unfortunately shares our name is that we help people understand how to protect and enjoy the natural world—not a symbolic representation of nature but actual streams, woodlands, mountains and other natural areas. Our work is research-based and is guided by both practical experience and sound environmental science. 

The Center reaches more than 15 million people annually, helping them understand how to minimize impacts and protect nature. Highly effective programs like the Traveling Trainers and Hot Spots deliver crucial education and encourage people to care for and protect special places around the globe. 

As the hashtag #LeaveNoTrace bounces around social media this summer we hope lots of moviegoers will get the chance to check out Granik’s film. We also hope that people who are unfamiliar with the work we do at the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics will be inspired to explore the actual natural world, and to learn a bit more about how to protect it by tapping into Leave No Trace’s rich knowledge base.  

Note: Read this if you're curious and the Center's brand standards and the use of "Leave No Trace."