The festival’s new director David Holbrooke, a filmmaker in his own right and a longtime Mountainfilm guest and attendee, has approached the job of programming his first festival with a view to building the buzz that comes from extraordinary films, exhibits, lectures and symposia that people will be talking about long after they show.
“We have more submissions than ever, and fewer slots on the program, so the math dictates that we’re more selective,” Holbrooke said. The aim has been, in part, to address a frequent criticism of Mountainfilm programming: namely, so much programming that there hasn’t been the opportunity on the schedule to present a program a second or third time if the buzz warrants.
That said, Holbrooke expressed strong enthusiasm about the program for the Memorial Day festival that traditionally kicks off Telluride’s summer season. He cited, in particular, a new documentary called Stranded, about a 1972 crash of a plane carrying the Uruguayan National Rugby team in the Andes, the same incident that was the subject of the book and the 1993 feature film Alive, which will open the festival with a screening at the Palm. Director Gonzalo Arijon recounts the events through actual footage and re-creations, according to a story in the Boulder Daily Camera: “But what separates Stranded from other accounts is that Arijon took the 16 survivors back to the crash site to interview them on the mountain 35 years after the accident,” the story reads. “To describe the film as powerful is an understatement.”
Other films of note on the program include The Lord God Bird, a documentary by George Butler (Pumping Iron), about the reported rediscovery of the extinct Ivory-billed Woodpecker; and the first full-length film by Telluride’s own Ben Knight and Travis Rummel, whose previous shorts, The Hatch and Running Down the Man premiered at Mountainfilm. Their latest, Red Gold, is about a threat to the world’s largest natural salmon run, in Alaska.
A film sure to stir strong reactions, Holbrooke promised, is The Art Star and the Sudanese Twins, a documentary by Pietra Brettkelly about the quest by performance artist Victoria Beecroft to adopt Sudanese twin orphans, a quest that becomes an obsession that threatens her marriage, fuels her controversial art, and raises complex questions about cultural exploitation.
This year’s Moving Mountains Symposium will be about the global water crisis, with a focus on water in our own backyard. Tying together the festival’s emphasis on local artists and its theme of water in the Southwest, one of the gallery shows will consist of submissions from local photographers on the theme of this current season’s Big Snows.
There will also be a show of photographs by local photographer T.R. Youngstrom, who died a decade ago in a helicopter accident in the Andes.
Other initiatives launched by Holbrooke include the “Village Green Initiative,” whereby Telluride will be asked, and inspired by other examples, to take steps, however small, to address environmental issues, and particularly our carbon footprint. Kris Holstrom of the New Community Coalition is helping to organize the program. And the festival’s prizes have been reconceived. The traditional student prize, audience favorite award and Charlie Fowler Prize to the best climbing or mountaineering film will be joined by a new prize, the Mountainfilm Prize, to be awarded not necessarily to the best film or program but to a subject of a film or program who exemplifies the Mountainfilm ethos and will be given a $5,000 grant.
In keeping with Holbrooke’s interest in activism, special guests this year include former Obama advisor Samantha Power (who resigned after calling Hillary Clinton a monster), CNN reporter Christiane Amanpour and her husband, former assistant secretary of state James Rubin; and writers Pico Iyer and Roger Cohen. They will join Holbrooke’s father, part-time Telluride resident and international Richard Holbrooke, a former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. in several panel discussions about foreign policy.