Every Memorial Day weekend for the past 40 years, the Telluride Mountainfilm festival has taken over the town’s main strip. It’s a four-day mashup of conservation, action sports, and social justice films with a side of smart people, parties, and prescreening trail runs. In other words, all of our favorite things. This year’s theme is migration, so the films touch on how people, animals, and ideas move and change—by force or by choice. Here are the ones we’re most excited to see.
In the late 1990s, while other mountain bikers were racing around in spandex, British Columbia became the heart of the nascent, weird, and sketchy freeride mountain biking. The Moment weaves together old footage of first cliff drops with current-day clips of those riders acknowledging how much they unwittingly shaped the sport into what it is today. “There was blood. So much blood,” journalist Mitchell Scott says in the film. Director Darcy Hennessey Turenne, a former pro mountain biker, was a preteen racing a hardware-store bike on Vancouver Island when riders like Brett Tippie were starting to send big jumps and build trails. Her love of the culture and subtle humor shine through, and the film has gotten high marks from the folks who pick them. “The Moment offers a banquet of moments from those early, heady, bone-breaky days,” former festival director Peter Kenworthy says.
What happens when your country is swallowed by the sea? That’s the question Anote Tong, president of Kiribati, is facing as the ocean subsumes the Pacific island, which is slated to be underwater by the middle of this century. Anote’s Ark toggles between everyday life on the island and Tong’s efforts to explain the crisis to the outside world. If it’s a foregone conclusion that the country will be one of the first places lost to climate change, the most interesting question that director and anthropologist Matthieu Rytz asks is how people like Tong think outside themselves and try to prevent other places from facing the same fate.
The Dawn Wall
In 2015, Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgenson’s first free ascent of Yosemite’s Dawn Wall put a national spotlight on big-wall climbing. But the backstory is much more complicated than the quest for a historic ascent, which had more hard pitches than any other previously sent big-wall free climb. The Dawn Wall dives into Caldwell’s complicated history, including his kidnapping in Kyrgyzstan and his relationship with Beth Rodden (the two married in 2003 and divorced in 2009), why the Dawn Wall became his way of working out the anxiety that came from those experiences, and how his obsession shaped the climb. The film was shot and directed by the Lowell Brothers and Peter Mortimer, who are behind some of the best recent climbing films, like Valley Uprising and King Lines, so both the story and visuals are great.
Return to Mount Kennedy
Jim Whittaker, the first American to summit Everest, named his son after one of his best friends: Bobby Kennedy. In 1965, the two were the first people to summit Mount Kennedy, a remote Yukon peak named in honor of JFK after his death. Fifty years later, their sons (Bob and Leif Whittaker and Chris Kennedy) went back to the mountain to try to climb it and see what bonded their fathers together. Mountainfilm is the world premiere of Return to Mount Kennedy, which has an original score by Eddie Vedder.
We’ve written in depth about Afghan Cycles and director Sarah Menzies’ quest to tell the story of the Afghan women’s cycling team. She’s followed the team as they’ve fought to be able to ride and compete in a country where women’s freedom is fraught, and she’s captured both their bravery and the backlash to their actions. Five years in the making, her vision is now a reality: Mountainfilm is the movie’s U.S. premiere, and we’re excited to finally see Menzies’ deep dive into women’s liberation through cycling in the face of Taliban control.