Top 10 Documentaries

Our editors' favorite movies from this year's Mountainfilm in Telluride


Get access to everything we publish when you sign up for Outside+.

Last Call at the Oasis
Los Angeles filmmaker Jessica Yu won an Academy Award for Best Documentary Short for her 1997 film, Breathing Lessons. Expect to see her in the running again this year for Last Call at the Oasis, a film about the imminent water crisis. With a cast of characters that includes human-rights lawyer Erin Brokovich and actor Jack Black, Yu manages to take on daunting water issues—cancer-causing pesticides, water wars in the Middle East, drought in Australia and California—with a light tone. The result is a film that leaves viewers aware that even the most serious issues are solvable–if we decide to solve them.

All.I.Can. JP Auclair’s Street Segment
The segment that stands out in Sherpa Cinema’s film All.I.Can is freeskier JP Auclair grinding rails and blackflipping through the streets of industrial-looking British Columbian towns. As soon as it hit the Web last winter, it made the rounds online. Watch it and you’ll understand why. The segment won Best Cinematography Award at Mountainfilm.

The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom
Fast death and slow rebirth are the themes of director Lucy Walker’s 40-minute Oscar-nominated documentary celebrating the survivors of the 2011 Japan tsunami and their love of the delicate cherry tree. There are many platitudes here—“They are the underdogs, tiny and short-lived, but they give us strength,” says one blossom lover—but none of the statements feel overwrought or unearned. And the reason for that is the devastating four minutes of violence that starts the film, a section of documentary footage that puts the most blown-out Michael Bay sequence to shame.

Chasing Ice
This is the story of National Geographic photographer James Balog’s mission to document the world’s disappearing glaciers. Director Jeff Orlowski’s won Mountainfilm’s Indomitable Spirit Award for his feature-length film. Watch out for executive editor Sam Moulton’s upcoming profile of Balog in the November issue.

Bidder 70
Gage and Gage’s production followed climate-change activist Tim DeChristopher from the moment he monkey-wrenched an oil-and-gas auction in Utah through his imprisonment nearly two years later. The resulting film won Mountainfilm’s Moving Mountains Prize, an award given to the movie most likely to inspire change. Abe Streep told DeChristopher’s story in the October Issue. Read it here.

Low and Clear
You’ve heard the term “fishing mimics life,” and that’s the thrust of Finback Film’s documentary Low & Clear, a lighthearted and beautifully cinematic story about two friends’ final fishing trip to Alaska.

Last of the Great Unknown
For decades, canyoneer Richard Rudow has been exploring the slot canyon and tributaries of the Grand Canyon. His dedication, and the exploration of one particularly committing slot, won him one of our Adventurer of the Year awards. Here’s his story in film.

Right to Play
Norwegian Olympic gold medalist Johann Olav Koss knows the value of sports. To that end, he’s brought sports to nearly 700,000 vulnerable children in 23 developing countries. This feel-good film from veteran producer Frank Marshall shows Koss in action.

Valley Uprising
Sender Film’s latest opus, a two-hour epic that chronicles the history of climbing in Yosemite Valley, was a work-in-progress at Mountainfilm. Directors Peter Mortimer and Nick Rosen took a risk and showed it anyway. The response: huge applause. With a little luck, when Valley Uprising is completed this year, it’ll do for climbing in Yosemite what Stacy Peralta’s Riding Giants did for big-wave surfers and bring the sport to mainstream culture.

David de Rothschild built a 60-foot boat out of recycled plastic bottles and sailed it 8,000 miles. His documentary tells the story of his adventure while drawing attention to the abundance of single-use plastics in the world’s oceans. Read more about de Rothschild here.

Filed to:
Lead Photo: Mountainfilm