TELLURIDE – It’s hard to leave the Telluride Mountainfilm Festival unaffected. And, that’s the point.
It’s even harder to describe exactly what Mountainfilm is, because to simply call it a film festival with a social conscience is a gross understatement.
Today’s Mountainfilm Festival has expanded from the celebration of mountaineering pioneers to the celebration of the work of pioneers in a myriad of fields, many of them focused on solving the most critical issues of our time.
At the annual four-day festival that consumes Telluride over Memorial Day Weekend, issues are brought to light in documentary films, as well as in symposia, panels, art and photography gallery exhibits, book-signings, breakfast talks, student programs, music and street parties.
Every Mountainfilm Festival celebrates the “indomitable spirit” played out in many forms, from summiting the world’s highest peaks and crossing its most tumultous seas to exposing genocide, war and child sex trafficking to exploring issues and solutions to global problems like climate change, clean water, conservation and consumption.
Mountainfilm Artistic Director David Holbrooke seems to enjoy pushing the envelope when it comes to selecting themes and challenging the Mountainfilm community with its content. And, over and over again, the audience response is to bring it on.
Mountainfilm Executive Director Peter Kenworthy recalled how, in Holbrooke’s first year as festival director in 2007, he announced his intent to bring films and conversations about modern human slavery to the festival.
“We were nervous,” Kenworthy said. “It was outside the normal boundaries, but it had a tremendous resonance with the audience; they got involved.”
And getting people involved and aware of crticial global issues is the ultimate goal of Mountainfilm. According to both Kenworthy and Holbrooke, it is through the basic philosophy behind Mountainfilm, expressed through images and words – the films, photographs, stories and conversations that are part of the festival – that participants will be moved to action.
Mountainfilm 2012 Moving Mountains Symposium to Focus on Population
Sticking true to character, the folks behind Mountainfilm chose a hot topic for the 2012 Moving Mountains Symposium, one that promises to spark thoughtful, and contentious, conversation. The theme: population.
This past Halloween, the world’s population hit the 7 billion mark. Projections by the United Nations show that number reaching 8 billion in 2025 and 10 billion by the end of the century.
These numbers are staggering because it took more than 100 years for the world’s population to grow from one to two billion, but today, over the last 24 years, the population has increased by 2 billion, from 5 billion to 7 billion people.
The problems aligned with this sort of population growth are multi-faceted and, according to Holbrooke, embedded in all of the issues presented at past Moving Mountains Symposiums (Energy in 2007, Water in 08, Food in 09, Extinction in 10 and Awareness into Action in 11). And so, the obvious question surrounding population growth in regards to these other issues becomes this: How can the Earth sustain the growing population?
As Holbrooke approached scholars and experts to discuss population, he also unearthed many related social, cultural and political angles related to the issue. Having reached the 7 billion population count is so complex – and fraught with danger – that National Geographic magazine has commited to publishing a year-long series on the issue, exploring everything from demographics to food security, climate change, fertility trends, and managing biodiversity, in its wake.
But highlighting population as the dominant issue at Mountainfilm 2012 may be one of the organizers’ most ambitious tasks to date. It is a topic that, Hobrooke observes, can quickly become prickly, because family planning is its core, and opining on population control can easily come across as coercive.
According to a blog post by Brigid Fitzgerald Reading, a staff researcher at the Earth Policy Institute, the keys to population control lie in granting women access to family planning and education.
“We’re trying to represent as many sensible sides as we can.” Holbrooke said. But, he acknowledged, “Population makes things messy. It creates these sort of barriers between people who would otherwise be aligned.”
Holbrooke added that population plays, both indirectly and directly, into the soul of Mountainfilm, and its focus on the exploration and appreciation of remote places.
“People who have been around Mountainfilm forever say to us, ‘I’m glad you’ve evolved in the direction you have,’” Holbrooke said. “These are the issues. You get out to those remote places and they have been changed, or are harder to get to – they’ve been affected.”
MountainFilm’s Website Expands Its Reach
While the scope of issues presented at Mountainfilm has grown tremendously, because of Telluride’s small size and limited infrastructure, the festival itself cannot get much bigger, says Kenworthy.
Growth, say Kenworthy and Holbrooke, will come through getting Mountainfilm’s programming and content out to a larger audience throughout the year.
“We’re doing amazingly [over] those four days,” Holbrooke said of the festival’s Memorial Day weekend timeframe, “but we should be doing it more often. People want this year-round, and it works year-round.”
Kenworthy and Holbrooke realized that Mountainfilm participants needed a place where they could keep tabs on the filmmakers, adventurers, artists and scholars whom they met in Telluride, as well as find articles and media that relate to the hot-button topics and events the festival explores.
A website is nothing new to Mountainfilm, but the dynamic, revamped website currently housing Mountainfilm information is new and exciting.
“We made the website powerful, capable—it’s a monster in terms of what it can do,” Kenworthy said.
And although Mountainfilm likes to put leading thinkers together to explore serious, global topics, at its core is the showcasing of beautiful films that celebrate culture, people and adventure.
Holbrooke notes that there are often great short films that don’t make it in the festival, but are a perfect fit to post on the site. Murmuration is one of these.
Murmuration is a collage of still photographs and video that tells the story of two young women going for a ride in a canoe on a rainy day. They are looking for, and find, starlings, small- to medium-sized passerine birds. The playful film shows flocks of the birds, literally thousands, poetically dancing across the sky, and at times covering it. So far the clip has received 6.9 million views on Vimeo.
“It plays beautifully when you need two minutes to step away from your life,” Holbrooke said of Murmuration. “We’re looking for things like that, that say, ‘That affected me, that was powerful.’”
Another short posted on the site tells the story of how villagers in Meghalaya, India, which during monsoon season becomes the wettest region in the world, use Strangler Fig roots to strengthen and preserve the riverbanks, to prevent them from being washed away. A father teaches his daughter to coax and care for the roots until they tangle themselves across the river, to create a knotted, sustainable, living bridge, reminiscent of something out of a fairy tale.
“We’re looking for films that have a richness in their messaging that makes them sensitve, environmentally and culturally,” Kenworthy said.
The Mountainfilm site follows the organization’s mantra of “images, words, action,” and is as much a gallery as it is a media conglomerate.
“It’s very cool, exciting content,” Kenworthy said. “It has such termendous potential. The reach is unlimited.
“People can get so much information, buy a pass, find out about tour, and,” he added, “it’s a call to action.”
The site also has tabs for Mountainfilm World Tour and Mountainfilm TV, two initiatives Kenworthy has been working on to expand Mountainfilm’s scope over the last few years.
The World Tour takes films that screened in Telluride on the road. Most recently, Mountainfilm visited Aspen and New York City, but Kenworthy hopes to take the films much further, to cities in Sweden, China, Brazil and Mexico, soon.
Kenworthy is also excited about the exposure that is coming with its relationship with Outside Magazine and Outside Television.
From November 2011 through October 2012, Outside Television is running a program seven nights a week called Outside Film Festival. According to Kenworthy, four of those nights, each week, are dedicated to showing films and people from Telluride Mountainfilm.
With Mountainfilm’s expanded scope, Holbrooke admits it is sometimes hard to concisely describe exactly what Mountainfilm is.
“It’s much more than a film festival,” he said. “We’re an incredible mix of athlete and artist, explorers and eggheads, seekers and scientists.
“There’s nothing like us.”