Best of MountainFilm

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MountainFilm in Telluride, a 32-year-old festival, is a little meeting of big minds in a beautiful place. Granted, I'm not being particularly objective. Outside sponsors the festival and a group of editors from the magazine and producers from our new television channel spoke on a panel Sunday. We brought cameras, too: Skier Lynsey Dyer hosted a show to appear later this summer on Outside TV, and photographer Jeff Lipsky shot a group of filmmakers for a story that will be published in our September issue.

Still, we partner with the event for a reason. At any given point during the four-day festival, a person might find himself chatting with people like Louie Psihoyos, director of The Cove; listening to Mike Fay, Rick Ridgeway, Maya Lin and Greg Carr speak about the extinction crisis; watching New Yorker writer George Packer interview Greg Mortenson; trying to hitch a ride to an all-night rave in a cave from strangers who have written award-winning books; and, of course, watching some truly inspiring films.

The festival wrapped up yesterday. After the jump, the films that took home the grand prizes. —Abe Streep

STUDENT CHOICE AWARD: I Am. Directed by Tom Shadyac (Liar Liar; Ace Ventura). This is Shadyac's story of personal transformation, from private-plane-owning Hollywood big wig to humble and happy bike commuter who sells off many of his worldly possessions.

DIRECTORS AWARD: Sons of Perdition. A portrait of a group of young men exiled from the Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints, a polygamous sect of the Mormon Church. Their culture may not value them, but these lost boys find a sweet dignity and grit as they band together in the big world outside. Directed by Tyler Measom and Jennilyn Merten. 

CHARLIE FOWLER AWARD (for best adventure film): Alone On The Wall. A short character profile of climber Alex Honnold, a charmingly awkward guy who ascends big walls without ropes. I served on the panel that judged this award. Here's what made the film stand out: the directors' ability to convey both Honnold's quirks (he lives in his van) and his honest, humble respect for a craft that could, at any moment, kill him. There is a moment, during an ascent of Moonlight Buttress, in Zion National Park, Utah, when Honnold sticks his knee in a crack in the wall and leans back, removing his hands from the rock with a goofy smile. I've seen this film twice, in full theaters, and both times this move brought an audible gasp, as if someone sucked the air out of the room with a giant vacuum. And that's what an adventure film is supposed to do: awe. Directed by Peter Mortimer and Nick Rosen. 

AUDIENCE CHOICE AWARD (the big one): A tie, between I Am and Bag It, a documentary about the very nasty impact plastic has on all of our lives. Directed by Suzan Beraza and starring Telluride local Jeb Berrier.

Addendum: I didn't see many of the general-interest films, as I was judging the adventure category, but I did catch one terrific and inspiring movie: Waste Land, about Brazilian artist Vik Muniz's work with people who pick recyclable materials from the world's largest landfill, in Rio De Janeiro. Watch it if you get the chance. Two other adventure films worth seeking out:

1. Eastern Rises, a beautifully shot film about a mosquito- and bear-complicated search for big, wild trout (and one elusive Sasquatch) in Russia's Kamchatka Peninsula. Directed by Ben Knight.

2. 180 South, in which adventurer Jeff Johnson recreates a trip Yvon Chouinard and Doug Tompkins took to Chilean Patagonia in 1968. It's a patiently told story that shines because Yvon tags along for the return trip, offering the sort of unfiltered wisdom that only he can. Here he is while slurping clams on a remote Chilean beach: “You know where I wish I was? Right here.” And on climbing Mount Everest: “You're an asshole when you start out and you're an asshole when you finish.”

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