TELLURIDE – “We’ve made Mountainfilm a little harder this year,” Festival Director David Holbrooke told me recently.
And by harder he means more challenging, more interesting, more demanding of Mountainfilm’s extended family/tribe to step up the plate and do something to help.
The theme is an extension of what Holbrooke rightfully claims was “a hard year.” “Our guests are a daring bunch and regularly take risks,” he wrote in the introduction to the festival program, “so it is the nature of our world to lose folks each year. That being said, it has been an especially tragic year for the extended festival family, particularly for a few of our luminaries.”
Holbrooke mentioned the death in Libya of Tim Hetherington, who was co-director of Restrepo (Mountainfilm 2010). There was the “fallen hero” Greg Mortenson, whose Three Cups of Tea franchise has been “laid low” by investigations. There is Tim DeChristopher, the climate activist who is heading to jail as a result of his conviction in Salt Lake City recently for interfering with an oil-and-gas lease auction. (DeChristopher will nonetheless be at the festival and very involved Memorial Day weekend.)
And, of course, Holbrooke himself lost his father, Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, suddenly, this winter – a man “who loved this festival of ours.”
Holbrooke told me that his response to all of this was, “It’s important that we look around at all the crazy shit in the world and say, are we going to step up?” His 9-year-old son said it more simply: “It’s really how to help, right?”
To that end Mountainfilm’s Friday Symposium has been reinvented. The morning session at the Conference Center in Mountain Village will combine talks on the last four festival themes: energy, water, food and extinction. Presenters, including activist Bill McKibben, anthropologist Wade Davis and DeChristopher, will set the stage.
That afternoon, the symposium will “break out” to venues in town. The Sheridan Opera House will host a program called “Image in Action,” featuring Aaron Huey, a photographer who has been living on the Pine Ridge Lakota Reservation for years and whose images have helped alleviate the desperation there.
At the Nugget Theater, guests can choose to participate in a “D.I.Y.” program. The Do It Yourself theme will feature festival veteran Dan Austin (True Fans, Mountainfilm 1998), who has started a project called 88 Bikes, which provides bicycles to people in need around world.
The third breakout, “Youth in Action,” will be at the Mason’s Hall. Filmmaker Tom Shadyac (I Am, Mountainfilm 2010) will host, with DeChristopher, among others, and a group of 350.org students from Montrose will be in attendance.
“In each case,” Holbrooke said, “here’s the problem. And here’s how you can help. Ian Cheney and Curt Ellis, who started Food Corps, will be here recruiting people to go work for a while in a ‘food desert’ somewhere in America. Somewhere where people don’t have access to the food we have here in Telluride; people who get their vegetables at the bodega.
“I am fully aware,” he continued, “that this is a high-wire act. The symposium is the riskiest thing we are doing. I’m excited to find out how people will react. People could just say, enough with the guilt, show me a movie. But we have a lot of great movies, too.” There will be 60-some movies screened over the four-day weekend, some at a new venue called Base Camp in Town Park. The always popular Adrenaline Show Saturday night will have unlimited seating this year, thanks to the new Base Camp.
Holbrooke mentioned in particular the premiere of “an unbelievable mountaineering film called Cold.”
As always, special guests will bring much of the unique energy for which Telluride is known. Holbrooke highlighted the return to Mountainfilm of Prudence Mabhena, star of Music By Prudence (2009). In the time since her last visit, she has had her severe spinal condition operated on thanks to another Mountainfilm stalwart, Dr. Rick Hodes (Making the Crooked Straight, Mountainfilm 2008), who will also be here.
The Yes Men, in the form of founder Andy Bichlbaum (The Yes Men Fix the World, Mountainfilm 2009), will return with more of his “laughtivism,” including his latest, “Coal Cares.”
Other guests include: ophthalmologist Geoff Tabin, who with climber/activist/funnyman Timmy O’Neill has been doing a project in Ethiopia; photographers Chris Rainier and George Steinmetz; writer Terry Tempest Williams; and “storyteller” (his term) Wade Davis. Local filmmakers Beth and George Gage will screen an unfinished version of their film Bidder 70, about Tim DeChristopher’s journey from economics student to accidental monkeywrencher.
All of the artists at the various galleries around town “will have a call to action,” said Holbrooke. That means, for example, that the show by one-time Ophirite Ace Kvale on “the eyes of Geoff Tabin,” featuring portraits of the people Tabin has saved from blindness, will ask viewers to contribute to that cause. And The Beehive Design Collective, with its massive poster on coal, “a stark reminder of what it takes to turn on our lights,” writes Holbrooke, will travel around town to raise awareness on how “this energy source is ripped from the ground.”
Despite the losses, the sadness, the ongoing struggles, Mountainfilm, said Holbrooke, is “fighting the good fight.”