This year marks the 34th Telluride Mountainfilm Festival, and true to its roots, there are films about life in the mountains. Opening night brings Bidder 70, telling the story of Tim DeChristopher, the University of Utah student who effectively monkey-wrenched a Bureau of Land Management oil and gas lease auction, from Telluride-based filmmakers Beth and George Gage. Bidder 70 chronicles DeChristopher’s successful but bogus bids to lease pristine lands surrounding Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, which led to federal felony charges. Over the next two years of trial postponements, DeChristopher, now serving a two-year sentence in Colorado’s Englewood Correctional Institution, became a folk hero, created a climate justice organization called Peaceful Uprising.
As environmentalists mobilize to save lands from destruction, humanists mobilize to save the planet from the calamitous effects of overpopulation. With the world’s population hitting 7 billion in October 2011, it’s fitting that population is the theme of this year’s symposium, with Stanford University professor and author Paul Ehrlich, whose 1968 book, The Population Bomb, warned of impending mass starvation and social upheavals, in the wake of unlimited population growth, as its keynote speaker.
“So many people in the Mountainfilm world really wanted this topic,” Festival Director David Holbrooke says, of the groundswell of support for this most pressing global issue to be the theme for the festival’s traditional Friday symposium. Population is in effect the culmination of topics of years past ranging from energy to water, food and extinction. Indeed, it’s so systemic, Holbrooke says, that his initial reaction was, “What do you say? But as I looked into it, I realized it’s an incredibly complex and tricky subject.”
Overpopulation and its attendant tragedies are at the heart of The Tenth Parallel by journalist Eliza Griswold, about the circle of latitude 10 degrees north of the Earth’s equatorial plane, cutting a swath the author describes as “the fault line between Christianity and Islam.” Every country, from Indonesia to Nigeria, Holbrooke says, “is on one side Christian and on the other side Islam … people are procreating like crazy for various reasons.”
Of Griswold, who will speak at Friday’s symposium, and be at Sunday’s two-hour Reading Frenzy, Archbishop Desmond Tutu wrote: “In this revolutionary work, Griswold has dedicated the last seven years of her life to traveling in the world’s least known places to explore the encounter between Christianity and Islam in Africa and Asia. She has brought back the unforgettable stories of Christians and Muslims along the tenth parallel whose faith is shaping the world’s future. Griswold’s courageous pilgrimage changes the way we think about Christianity and Islam by exploding any simplistic “clash” narrative. She returns us to the most basic truth of human existence: that the world and its people are interconnected.”
Add in the tenth parallel’s ecological sensitivity, making it a bellwether for climate change, and you have “a perfect storm,” says Holbrooke. He adds, however, that the the education of girls and empowerment of women is a powerful antidote to overpopulation, “that clearly correlates to lower birth rates.”
In more northern latitudes, Chasing Ice photographer Jim Balog chronicles the stories of our glaciers, via time-lapse cameras, as they shrink, melting so fast, “like air being let out of the balloon,” Balog tells viewers, that one glacier has lost as much height as that of the Empire State Building, over the last two-and-a-half decades. Holbrooke describes Chasing Ice as “a groundbreaking film about climate change [and] the harbinger of an uncertain future.
“Every film, in its own way, is really worthwhile,” Holbrooke says of the 70-plus films in the festival, and because “much of what you take away from a film is what you bring to it – your mood, energy and receptivity to new ideas,” he does go on to list some films that “will resonate with audiences in a real and sustained way.”
Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry: Artist Ai Weiwei is a major cultural and political force in China. His fearlessness shines through in this inspiring documentary by first-time filmmaker Alison Klayman.
Big in Bollywood: This rollicking fun, feel-good tale is about a California-born actor with little connection to his parents’ homeland of India until he’s asked to audition for a role in a Bollywood film, which turns out to be a hit and turns his life upside down.
Darwin: This elegiac and haunting story about a small, remote California desert town weaves together the story of its boom/bust mining history, the mysterious military base nearby where secret weapons are tested, and the unforgettable residents who have chosen to live life on their own terms.
Ethel: Rory Kennedy, the youngest daughter of Ethel and Robert F. Kennedy, made this touching and tender, yet surprisingly funny, film about her mother.
Fambul Tok: This deep and powerful film tells the story of a way to forgiveness in Sierra Leone after a brutal civil war left the country riven.
The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom: This stunningly beautiful film by Lucy Walker (director of Waste Land) movingly melds the seemingly disparate topics of the Japanese tsunami and the onset of the traditional Cherry Blossom season.
Living Downstream: Sandra Steingraber is a quietly powerful voice who makes the link between our environment and our health by telling her own story and extrapolating it to the many unnatural toxins in our world.
Winter's Wind: Skiing is life. That’s the motto for this allegorical – yet very real – ode to the ski bum.
Of this year’s festival, Holbrooke concludes: “The guests, films and artists all cover a broad range of interests, and we’re sure that everyone will find something at Mountainfilm that moves them.” For more information and a detailed schedule, visit www.mountainfilm.org/festival.
Regional Filmmakers Exhibit at Mountainfilm
TELLURIDE – The work of regional filmmakers is a fixture at Mountainfilm, and the festival, in turn, supports special events and programming geared toward locals. This year’s regional contributions range from the premiere of George and Beth Gage’s Bidder 70 to free films (screening Wednesday-Monday evenings at High Camp in Town Park to artist in residence BK Adams * I Am Art to Making Movies That Matter, an educational workshop for teachers.
Another premiere is Lady B’s First Winter, longtime resident Scott Ransom’s film following the evolution of Telluride Ski Patroller Gary Richard’s avalanche dog Lady B from puppy to professional. Also premiering is Load Bearing, which highlights the Telluride Adaptive Sports Program, featuring Telluride entrepreneurs and cyclists James and Summer Colt, and photographer Drew Ludwig.
Mountainfilm stalwart Ben Knight, of Felt Soul Media, premieres his short ski haiku filmed in Japan, Unicorn Sashimi. Also screening (off the schedule) are The Local’s Bite, a short horror film by Scott Upshur, and Into Thick Air, in which Rob Story, his twin brother and a few friends summit the seven highest peaks in the Midwest. Mountainfilm will also screen trailers from Telluride filmmakers who received Mountainfilm Commitment Grants: Uranium Drive-In (from Bag It’s Suzan Beraza and her team at Reel Thing Productions) and DamNation (from Felt Soul Media’s Ben Knight and Travis Rummel).
“Mountainfilm is strongly rooted in its hometown. Without this creative and supportive community, our festival would be significantly diminished. One of the best things about Mountainfilm is how much it inspires local talent, and it is important to us that we continue to do that,” says Holbrooke.
The free-of-charge Base Camp Outdoor Theatre in Telluride Town Park returns for its second year with an expanded schedule that stretches from Wednesday, May 23, through Monday, May 28, with 9 p.m. showtimes.
As always, Mountainfilm offers free Coffee Talks, Saturday-Monday at 8 a.m. Grab a Mountainfilm program, or visit mountainfilm.org online for a detailed schedule of discussion topics and guests online.