The 14 Best Things about Mountainfilm in Telluride 2014
Okay, sure, T-Ride's annual gathering of the storytelling tribe can wax a bit earnest, but it's still one of the finest showcases of adventure filmmaking you'll find in America (or anywhere else). Here, a few highlights from the inspiring cinematic weekend.
14. Wild Discussions
The idea of wilderness, Mountainfilm’s theme this year, tied to the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act, sparked myriad conversations on topics like climate change, extreme sustainable living, energy solutions, and dam removal. Anyone tempted to watch from the sidelines was set straight by indefatigable activist and Glen Canyon bombshell Katie Lee: “It’s all about the passion,” she told a packed house at the premiere of DamNation. “If you don’t have the passion, then stay home, lock the doors, and die.”
13. Celeb Sightings
We spied Susan Sarandon while sipping mojitos at Honga’s; rumors abounded that Neil Young was around, hoping to see DamNation. But as far as the crowd was concerned, the weekend’s real A-listers included DamNation’s own contingent, ocean explorer Sylvia Earle, land champion and former prison inmate Tim DeChristopher, Wild author Cheryl Strayed, writer Dexter Filkins, and Guns, Germs, and Steel author Jared Diamond.
12. Sing-Along with Peter Yarrow
The 8 A.M. coffee talks were well worth stumbling out of bed for: subjects ranged from gear companies and sustainability to the radical fringes of defending wilderness. But the stand-out was the eponymous Peter Yarrow of sixties folk group Peter, Paul, and Mary leading the crowd in singing “Puff the Magic Dragon—” a perfect choice for Telluride, but not for the reason you might think. “It’s about caring—it’s not about grass!” Yarrow said. “Why would you cry about grass? Maybe you’d giggle. I wrote this song with a friend in 1959 as a senior at Cornell. Grass didn’t even move East until the next year! Of course, later I could have written a lot of songs about dragons and grass.”
11. Frank and Jeanne Moore
The Tearjerker Award goes to this amazing couple, who were in attendance for the world premier of Mending the Line. The film follows the Moores’ trip to Normandy, France, to fulfill Frank’s 70-year dream of fly-fishing a river that he saw after the D-Day Invasion. But at its heart, it’s a story of love’s ability to conquer and heal the emotional scars left by war—the love of fishing and being out in nature, and the love that two people can build over a lifetime together. If there was still a dry eye in the house, that changed during the Q and A when Frank gave this piece of relationship advice: “Marry a girl like this one.”
10. The Sleeper Hits
Born to Fly: A stunning exploration of dance and movement in spaces usually occupied by climbers and BASE jumpers
The Overnighters: What happens when hundreds of desperate men come to a small North Dakota town looking for fracking work, and a church pastor is the only person willing to welcome them.
The Last Season: A Vietnam vet suffers from wounds beyond healing but finds a semblance of peace in the beauty of the Pacific Northwest and the friendship of a Cambodian victim of the Khmer Rouge.
9. Mine Shaft Party
For those lucky enough to get tickets to this fundraiser for Deep Creek Experimental, whose artists’ work appears at Burning Man, Sunday night was an epic, wood-smoke-filled bash featuring flame-filled kinetic sculpture and pounding dance beats against the backdrop of Deep Creek Mine. For those who partied in town at the Steaming Bean, the safety-helmet-studded queue of ravers waiting for the shuttle out to the mine was pretty good, too.
No Mountainfilm weekend would be complete without some lively Everest discussion. This year—the deadliest in the mountain’s history—was particularly riveting, in part because of the experts on hand, including Norbu Tenzing Sherpa (Tenzing Norgay’s son), Karsang Sherpa, Lakpa Rita Sherpa, Conrad Anker, Wade Davis, Aaron Huey, Dave Hahn (who is usually climbing Everest during the festival), Outside’s own Grayson Schaffer, and Nick Rosen, director of Sender Film’s award-winning “High Tension.”
Of all the threatened wilderness highlighted in this year’s festival, Congo’s Virunga National Park is the most wrenching: this UNESCO World Heritage Site, home to the world’s last mountain gorillas, is threatened on all sides by relentless poachers, the front lines of civil war, and the oil and mining interests of British company SOCO International. Its handful of unwavering defenders include a former child soldier and a French journalist, both of whom wear wires to document the corruption and bigotry of officials, a man who has dedicated his life to caring for gorillas orphaned by poachers, and park director Emmanuel de Merode, whose quiet refusal to compromise the parks future has recently earned him several gunshot wounds in an assassination attempt. Crafted like a feature film Virunga shows humanity at our darkest, but the hope embodied in the park’s champions shines the brighter for it.
6. The Quotes
“You get killed when you stop feeling the fear.” —Dexter Filkins, on being a reporter in Afghanistan
“Everest is completely out of control. It’s like crack.” —Aaron Huey, panel discussion following “High Tension.”
“Look at gay marriage, look at marijuana! Nobody ever thought there would be movement on those issues, and then we reached a tipping point.” —Auden Schendler, Aspen Skiing Company Vice President of Sustainability, on the climate change issue.
Audience to Tim deChristopher: “What are the most sustainable places to live?”
DeChristopher: “Prison is pretty low-impact.”
M. Sanjayan to Sylvia Earle: “You don’t eat fish, do you?”
Earle: “Well, they don’t eat me so I like to return the favor.”
5. The Winners
2014 Student Award: E-Team
2014 Norman Vaughan Indomitable Spirit Award: Tashi and the Monk
2014 Festival Director’s Award: Katie Lee
2014 Cinematography Award: Once Upon a Forest
2014 Charlie Fowler Award: High Tension
2014 Audience Choice Award: DamNation
4. “14.c” and Kai Lightner
Look out climbing world, everyone’s new favorite momma’s boy is on the rise. Kai Lightner, the star of the climbing short “14.c”, emerged as a new face at Mountainfilm with his climbing talents and sharp wit. Already climbing 14.c grade pitches as 14 year-old, Lightner seems to have a clear outlook on life. When asked if he aspires to be like Dean Potter or Alex Honnold, Lightner replied “No way, those guys are crazy.”
3. Snow. On Memorial Day Weekend.
In a twist of climate irregularity, Telluride was hit with cold wind, rain, hail, and several inches of snow over the weekend. It didn’t stop hundreds of people from lining up outside the theaters, though it did dampen noble efforts to squeeze in a hike up to still-frozen Bridal Veil Falls.
2. Dean Potter
Potter, the climber-cum-wingsuiter-with-dog, tends to make an impact wherever he goes. Mountainfilm 2014 was no exception. In sketchy weather, he pulled off a wingsuit flyover during the festival’s popular ice-cream social. Later, he drew groans during Beer and Banter with Timmy O’neill when Potter did an ill-advised Chinese impersonation.
The line for the second, outside-in-the-snow screening of DamNation: 400 people deep. Between bringing entire crowds to tears with his humble gratitude, filmmaker Ben Knight made time to mingle with festivalgoers, autographing a few women’s chests and—we hope—letting people buy him drinks. Live it up, Ben: you deserve it.