The recipe for creating the perfect high-altitude film soiree? Invite 50 speakers and legendary athletes like mountaineer Conrad Anker, kayaker Eric Jackson, and climber Lynn Hill. Select 80 films ranging from five-minute action flicks to mind-expanding two-hour documentaries. Throw in four high-altitude movie theaters in a picturesque mountain town. Dub it the Telluride Mountainfilm Festival. Stir, and enjoy.
The 28th annual four-day event took place over Memorial Day weekend in Telluride, Colorado, and Outside's Megan Michelson was on hand to hit the screenings and scope out the fest's best flicks. Here are her picks to get you primed for these films, coming up at a theater (or TV) near you.
The Real Dirt on Farmer John
The Gist: This 82-minute biographical documentary by Taggart Siegel centers on Illinois farmer John Peterson and his family's crop-growing legacy. It's no surprise that The Real Dirt on Farmer John won the weekend's Sustainable Planet Award and Viewer's Choiceit' a laugh-out-loud comedic performance by kooky Farmer John, who wears pink boas as he plows his fields and struggles with the judgment of his conventional, Midwestern neighbors. Tears will also be shed during the film's oh-so-sad commentary on the downward spiral of family farming in the U.S.
Bottom Line: Bust out the all-natural mulchthis film will make you want to plant your own organic veggies.
Light of the Himalaya
The Gist: New from renowned filmmaker Michael Brown (Farther Than the Eye Can See), Light of the Himalaya follows Dr. Geoff Tabinthe same mountaineer/ophthalmologist who was featured in a December 2005 Outside feature story (See "The Light of Seven Mountain Suns" by Nick Heil)and a team of North Face athletes as they summit Nepal's 21,129-foot Cholatse, while also participating in the Himalayan Cataract Project, an effort to help blind Nepalese villagers.
Bottom Line: A heart-warming story with an ample amount of high-altitude footage that proves that helping others dwarfs the reward of climbing snow-capped peaks.
Queen of Trees
The Gist: The PBS-style Queen of Trees takes viewers where a film never has before: inside a ripening fruit on a giant African sycomore fig tree. Filmmakers Mark Deeble and Vicky Stone spent two years camped in the Kenyan bush to capture the life cycle of wasps that begin their journey inside the fruit. With a token British narrator and stunning visualslike swinging monkeys and fish-catching alligators that bring the African jungle closer than you've ever seen it beforethis film secured the festival's Grand Jury Prize.
Bottom Line: You'll never look at Fig Newtons the same again.
Someday, Somebody Will Ski That
The Gist: In just 18 minutes, Jackson, Wyoming-based filmmaker Peter Pilafian documents the history of Jackson Hole's Corbet's Couloir, a narrow, steep chute located under the resort's tram. From the first-ever ski patroller to carve turns down the couloir to the screw-loose snowmobiler who launched off the cornice, the film is short, fun, and refreshingly different from the typical Jackson Hole ski porn.
Bottom Line: If you haven't skied Corbet's, you'll be itching to after this one.
First Ascent: The Obscurist
The Gist: Sender Films director Peter Mortimer gives viewers a sneak peak at his upcoming full-length climbing film First Ascent with a 12-minute snippet showcasing climber Cedar Wright's attempt on a gnarly unclimbed crack in Yosemite Valley. Bloody knuckles, loud profanities, and an eventual triumph secured this film the honor of Best Short.
Bottom Line: There's still uncharted territory out there and you just have to bust your ass to find itand then get to the top.
The Gist: First-time filmmaker and former pro kayaker Polly Green serves up a generous helping of humanity and whitewater action in her 20-minute film Nomads, about three women making a difference in the African villages of Uganda. In between malaria talks and handing out mosquito nets, the film's three stars tear it up on the White Nile's biggest waves.
Bottom Line: Female empowerment never looked so hardcore.
Who Killed the Electric Car?
The Gist: Was it the professor with the candlestick in the dining room? Not according to filmmaker Chris Paine, who tries to solve the mystery of the electric car's untimely demise. In light of rising global oil prices, this 90-minute film most deservedly picked up the festival's Truth to Power award, and, in the end, we find that the culprits are as much big government, oil bigwigs, and automobile CEOs as they are you and me: the consumers.
Bottom Line: First you'll be angry, then you'll want to change the world.
Why He Skied
The Gist: When 30-year-old mountaineer Hans Saari fell to his death while skiing the French Alps' Mont Blanc du Tacul in 2001, his grief-stricken younger brother, Per, was inspired to make a film. The result? Why He Skied, a tear-inducing documentary that follows Per as he attempts to come to terms with his brother's death. The film features interviews with close friends and family and culminates in Per's summit of the same mountain in France where his brother met his demise.
Bottom Line: Bring tissue. This one's tough.
Balapan, Wings of the Altai
The Gist: The theme for this year's fest was "Celebrating Indomitable Spirit," with a emphasis on Mongolia. Balapan, Wings of the Altai, winner of the Mountain Culture Award, was the featured Mongolian-based film. Director Hamid Sardar beautifully depicts the struggles of sheep herder Sheik Pauli in the Delous Valley of western Mongolia, as he wards off hungry predators with the help of a flock of eagles.
Bottom Line: Here's your chance for a sneak peak at a far-off lifestyle you'd otherwise never knew existed.