Donations and pass sales are up. A major new sponsor, National Geographic, has signed on. Less than a week before the lights were scheduled to go down and the first film was scheduled to be shown at 6 p.m. tonight, the only thing that seemed to be absent was Mountainfilm’s traditional sense of last-minute improvisation.
That humming sound is, perhaps, the ultimate evidence that the engine has been tuned up.
“I’m feeling really good about it,” Kenworthy said in an interview on Monday. “We are far more stable in terms of staffing and financially than we’ve been in recent years. We have new policies, procedures and systems in place. Morale is good.”
Festivalgoers may experience the fruit of all this in subtle ways. New high definition projectors at both the Palm and the High Camp venues will yield improved images on the screen. Kenworthy is pleased that the festival has been in a position to put more advance planning into today’s Moving Mountains Symposium, whose subject this year is energy. New promotional and marketing efforts could be responsible for improved ticket sales and attendance.
An undoubted damper was the announcement last week by three-year Festival Director Arlene Burns that this will be her last year on the job. She is leaving, Burns said in an email newsletter to a wide circle of friends and acquaintances, in large part because her partner is suffering from a serious illness.
Not surprisingly, Burns in the email evinces precisely the “indomitable spirit” that Mountainfilm celebrates:
“I know in my heart and my head and my gut that departure from the helm of Mountainfilm is the proper course, as it will liberate me to help Giorgio live his/our dreams and ‘surf the tsunami’ with as much style and grace as we can muster,” she writes. “I will always feel part of the soul and spirit of Mountainfilm, and see it as a gathering of the tribe of incredible individuals, on the cutting edge of life itself. Please think about joining us in Telluride in May for one last great celebration....”
Indeed, that celebration begins today with the all-day symposium on energy and gallery walk this evening, followed by the usual feast of films and presentations over the weekend.
Among the programs Kenworthy expects to be a hit is Nine Winters Old, a world premiere of a film by Bill Heath about life in a ski town, which shows tonight at the Palm. The fact that the same program includes a new fishing short, Running Down the Man, by local filmmakers Ben Knight and Travis Rummell, whose previous film, The Hatch, about the fishing on the Gunnison River during the annual stone fly hatch, was a hit of last year’s festival, virtually guarantees a big local audience. Knight and Rummell’s new film features a new fish star: the elusive rooster fish of Baja California.
Darious Goes West: The Roll of His Life is “an enormous tearjerker,” says Kenworthy, that “demonstrates the theme of indomitable spirit.” The subject is a 15-year-old with muscular dystrophy whose dream is for his wheelchair to get the full customization treatment by MTV’s Pimp My Ride. It plays tonight at the Nugget.
Along the same lines, showing Saturday at the Sheridan Opera House, Granny D Goes to Washington tells the tale of a grandmother in her late 80s who walks across the country to promote the cause of campaign finance reform. No less indomitable in spirit are two guys who enter a cross-Atlantic rowing race in Row Hard No Excuses, a film that like the best on the program goes deeper than its subject might suggest, according to Kenworthy. The film screens on Sunday morning at the Nugget.
Similarly Marco, Shooting Star is about a French extreme snowboarder, and contains the “adrenalin” footage that put Mountainfilm on the map, but more, Kenworthy said. On his second descent of Everest, Marco Siffredi waves goodbye to the camera and disappears, never to be seen again.
Though it was once this festival’s calling card, adrenalin is now all over television and on the web, Kenworthy explained, requiring Mountainfilm programmers to dig deeper.
“We can’t compete with YouTube,” he explained. “So I think it’s more interesting for us to go for films with more depth and insight.”
Even so, Adrenaline #1 at the High Camp on Saturday afternoon manages to touch the all of the traditional bases, with three films, one kayaking, one skiing and one surfing. Adrenalin #2 on Sunday covers the rest of the itinerary with BASE jumping, extreme biking, bouldering, snowboarding, snowkiting, and for old times sake, climbing.
More than a rollercoaster ride? Yes, Kenworthy promises.
Welcome to Mountainfilm.