Why We Need Mountainfilm

Telluride, Colorado is home to many jaw dropping things, but this film fest may take the cake

Three, two, one, blast off. The Titan-Centaur rocket erupts beneath me and launches me off the ground at Cape Canaveral. It’s August 2, 1977, and I am aboard Voyager 2. I quickly leave Earth’s atmosphere and zoom toward outer space. I am beginning the greatest space exploration mission ever designed by NASA. Aboard the strange but high-tech craft are 65,000 individual parts, but each of these can be broken down into even smaller parts, like computer memory and transistors. Voyager 2 and Voyager 1 (which launched behind me on September 5, 1977) are the most complex deep space probes ever designed. I am headed for the journey of a lifetime, the journey of 1-million lifetimes. I am headed for interstellar exploration.

Far after humanity disappears, the Voyager crafts will be hurling through unknown space for billions of years. Each vessel holds a golden record, an LP emblazoned with pictures and sounds of life on Earth. Essentially, Voyager is humanity’s message in a bottle, our existence’s interstellar time capsule. It is a head-trip to say the least as I try to wrap my brain around the concept. But I am not stressing too hard because I am cozily wrapped in my sleeping bag, sitting in my camp chair in Telluride, Colorado’s town park, watching the documentary film The Farthest. It’s opening night of Mountainfilm and I have begun my film fest mission.

Since 1979, every Memorial Day weekend in Telluride has been jam packed with outdoors folk looking to get inspired by films about environmental and cultural issues, politics, social change, and mountain sports and culture. “Mountainfilm will certainly inspire you to get after it in a bigger way,” says festival director David Holbrooke. “But the festival is much more than rad people doing rad things. It will also blow your mind with fresh and new ideas that make you rethink the world you live in and how you want to live in it.”

Along with frequenting Mountainfilm’s buzzing, darkened theaters, I stood on Main Street in circles with my friends. I huddled up with Hilary Oliver and Aidan Haley and talked about the power of real story and what that looks like in outdoor media. I joked around about the oddity of koala bears with Krystle Wright and the kickass gals of Where The Wild Things Play. Brendan Leonard and Fitz Cahall reminded me of what “being” in the mountains really means after we got shutdown on an early morning ski mission above Bridal Veil Falls—friendship and snacks, specifically coffee cake. David Holbrooke and I laughed while recounting how I taught his daughters how to deal with skeeter bites and outdoor pooping as an instructor for the Telluride Academy back in my early twenties. He gave me the rundown on what to see and where to be during the weekend. Holbrooke’s advice: “Yeah so, just go to everything and see everything ‘cause everything is great, man.”

Images of early dirtbaggery lit up the darkness of the Sheridan Opera House. The bulging, sold out crowd laughed and ooh-n-ah’d during the premiere of Dirtbag: The Legend of Fred Beckey on Friday night. The stoke pump had already been primed that morning with breathtaking and hilarious short films. HAFE explained high altitude farting. 120 Days introduced me to the quick as lightening world of tarpon fishing. The super slow-mo cinematography illustrated the balletic dance between fish and fisherman. I whooped-n-hollered when the women of Where The Wild Things Play played really wild and really hard. Friday was a smile-and-laugh-until-it-hurts type of day.

Where Mountainfilm really shines is in its presentation of issues and stories that can seem dire and cause shocking, even painful emotional responses. The death of reefs is shown in Chasing Coral. And the business of big game hunting is examined in Trophy, which was paired with the existential crisis of disappearing worlds in A Restless Peace. Films like Ascend and Charged celebrate the power of doing more and leaning into life in spite of life-altering physical challenges. Heavy? Yes. Difficult? Sure, at times. But powerful messages and deep meanings are found in the hard parts of life, and those stories have a home at Mountainfilm.

Mountainfilm is more than an outdoor community gathering, more than a “let’s get together and get stoked” meet-up. Yes, it is all those things. But it truly serves as a call for action, an appeal for the very best versions of us as mountain people. Mountainfilm asks us to be better, it demands we dig our heels in and fight against climate change in big ways and in tiny actions. It begs us to investigate adventure, what it means, and what it can do to and for the human spirit. It helps us rethink our now, reframe our future, and inspires us to build community as we trudge hand in hand toward a joyful, shared providence. Every Memorial Day weekend, Mountainfilm highlights the good, the ugly, the hard, and the troublesome. But most importantly, Mountainfilm draws the hopeful roadmap we need to move forward and to be better. I’ll see you there next May, friends.

Photo by Ben Eng

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Showing 2 comments
  • Stephen

    Had a ‘first date’ at Mountainfilm one year. The 4 day weekend of movies and events created such a thought provoking and inspiring atmosphere that we enjoyed so much, we decided maybe a second date should happen. We now have a 6 and 2.5 year old and will always remember fondly that a weekend in Telluride changed our lives forever!!!!

  • Douglas Tooley

    Cooler than the effect it actually has on the climate, hopefully it will eventually cool the climate more. Positive thinking is good, but you can’t ignore the realities – including the complete corporate dysfunction of the Democratic Party.

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