Our Guide to the Top 10 Films at Mountainfilm 2015
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This year’s film festival, which kicks off Friday in Telluride, is chock full of 100 films, ranging from feature length documentaries about climbing the world’s toughest mountains to short, art films. Here are the 10 you shouldn’t miss.
Photo: A scene from Force.
‘Meru’ (87 min.)
The most anticipated documentary of the year chronicles the second attempt by three climbers to scale the Shark’s Fin on Meru Peak in the Himalayas. The team—Jimmy Chin, Conrad Anker, and Renan Ozturk—abandoned its first attempt in 2008 just 100 meters from the summit, but returned in 2011 to finish the job. The goal of the film was to “break through the genre” of traditional climbing films, Chin, the director, told Outside. “Ultimately, you discover that the film is about loyalty and obsession and friendship.”
‘The Last Patrol’ (86 min.)
The final installment of Sebastian Junger’s combat film trilogy—following Korengal and Restrepo—breaks all the rules of traditional journalistic filmmaking. The Last Patrol follows Junger and two veterans on an illegal hike along Amtrak rail lines up the Eastern seaboard and, as many of Junger’s films do, explores the notion of modern masculinity and the ways men cope with psychological trauma.
“I think what happens with a lot of people, a lot of men, is that somewhere in their 40s—and I’m 52 right now—you just can’t avoid yourself anymore,” Junger told Outside in November, discussing the film. “Because life starts costing you something.”
‘Racing Extinction’ (90 min.)
The filmmaker behind the Oscar-winning documentary The Cove follows up his dolphin-slaughter film with another rosy subject: how humans are driving the mass extinction of species the world over. Director Louie Psihoyos told Outside the film is designed to educate and entertain, more than anything. “I don’t care about another shelf full of awards. I want to make a movie that people actually want to see. This movie is much more entertaining than The Cove.”
‘Valley Uprising’ (99 min.)
The 1960s was the Wild West era of climbing in Yosemite and, through historic photos, press clippings, and video footage, Valley Uprising documents those days. These were the years of climbing’s renaissance in the valley, when Royal Robbins, Yvon Chouinard, and Tom Frost solidified their status as legends.
“None of us expected to have jobs,” Chouinard says in the film. “We were going to be hoboes and climb forever.”
‘Cerro Torre: A Snowball’s Chance in Hell’ (101 min.)
The Compressor Route up Patagonia’s iconic Cerro Torre had eluded climbers for more than 50 years until David Lama came along. The Austrian alpinist took on the infamous route—4,000 feet of vertical rock and ice on the tower’s southeast ridge—and free-climbed it in 2012. The long-awaited film has arrived.
‘How to Change the World’ (112 min.)
Using never-before-seen footage from Greenpeace’s first activists, documentarian Jerry Rothwell has crafted a high-seas environmental adventure that also pays due attention to the frustrating realities of social activism. It all starts with the ragtag group of Canadians facing down an atomic testing site in Alaska. The ensuing portrait of a small organization fighting environmental crime—and each other—is an unprecedented look at the idealistic, eccentric, overwhelmed founders who launched Greenpeace into the public eye.
‘Unbranded’ (105 min.)
Four friends bring the task of western frontiersmen—adopting, training, and riding 16 wild horses from Mexico to Canada—into the 21st century. “Things are going to go wrong,” says rider Ben Thamer, and he is right. These animals are known to be unpredictable, but the riders are sending a message about the real difficulties of mustangs in the modern world: decreasing wild lands for which the horses are perfectly suited, and an astonishing number of wild horses that are currently languishing in government holding facilities.
‘Down to Nothing’ (40 min.)
Camp4 Collective’s Renan Ozturk and Taylor Rees document what happens when a group of veteran adventurers take a trip that goes terribly wrong. The goal: confirm that Burma’s Hkakabo Razi is Southeast Asia’s tallest mountain, which can only be done by placing a GPS on the summit. The problem: “Northern Burma, as it turns out, is no place to try to bring 27 duffle bags,” Rees wrote on Mountainfilm’s blog. The reasoning behind the film’s name is made abundantly clear as we watch the team slog all of their gear, unsupported and entirely by foot, over 200 miles and 13,400 vertical feet.
‘A Line Across the Sky’ (40 min.)
The four-mile and 13,000-foot Fitz Traverse was once thought an impossible climb, and few have taken it on. Naturally, Tommy Caldwell and Alex Honnold were the ones to attempt (and accomplish) a first ascent. Big UP Productions’ Josh Lowell and Sender Films’ Peter Mortimer give fittingly epic screentime to the five-day adventure, but the real highlights are moments of camaraderie (and sometimes competition) among Caldwell, Honnold, and fellow accomplished climbers.
‘Force’ (19 min.)
Force is the crowdsourced story of photographer, filmmaker, and climber Mikey Schaefer’s love affair with Patagonia. Directors Fitz Cahall and Aidan Haley of Duct Tape Then Beer drew from five years’ worth of footage from 17 climbers for the full story of Schaefer’s highs (many unexpected first ascents) and lows (“So definitely the most fucked up thing I’ve ever done in the alpine…” Schaefer tells the camera in the first few seconds of the trailer).