This time of year there is typically no place I would rather be than Telluride, Colorado. The MountainFilm festival now in progress will go on with me for the first time in 5 years. As much as I would love to be there to connect with old friends and watch some incredible movies I’m less than two weeks away from going on location to produce a book and film project of my own! I suppose it’s good to step back and reflect on what I hope to bring to MountainFilm next year. Fortunately I had the opportunity to create this short interview with executive director David Holbrooke for National Geographic Adventure. This conversation is a great preview for what lies ahead over the weekend. I hope everyone has a terrific time! ~ JEM
Celebrating 35 years of inspiration, the 2013 Mountainfilm festival in Telluride, Colorado, will run another exciting program of movies and speakers over Memorial Day weekend. The impressive lineup includes leading adventure athletes, environmental activists, and documentary filmmakers. Beginning with the Moving Mountains Symposium on Friday, the festival revolves around the theme of climate solutions. Here festival director David Holbrooke explains how the team is taking one of the world’s most critical issues head on for what promises to be the most innovative Mountainfilm yet.
James Mills: Why did you pick this year’s theme?
David Holbrooke: I wanted to do something on climate change. We haven’t really looked at it at the festival since I’ve been the director. We have certainly messed around it with energy and food and population themes in the past. But I thought we really needed to look how climate change has been handled. And we wanted to put our own twist on it—climate solutions seemed to be a way to do that.
J.M.: What can you tell us about the special guests who will be speaking on this topic during the Moving Mountains Symposium on Friday?
D.H.: We’ve got some knockout guests this year. We’re really trying to make this a symposium unlike any other. So we have a scientist like Daniel Nocera, who’s doing all this work on artificial photosynthesis. And then someone like Tim DeChristopher, fresh out of his federal prison sentence. We’ll look at geo-engineering. We’ll look at the roles art and music play in climate solutions. We’ve found a really wide variety of speakers, from philosophers to, for example, Aspen Ski Company’s Auden Schendler, who is a really thoughtful guy on what they’re doing in their world. We’re going to look at it both from a global perspective, but also a little of what’s going on southwest Colorado. It’s really something that impacts all of us, and if we do this right, and we’re bloody-well determined to, it will have a real resonance for people that will go way beyond Mountainfilm and out into the world in a way that is very real and palpable.
J.M.: One of things that you’re going to highlight is the 50th anniversary of the first American summit on Everest, with some of the 1963 American Everest Team present. How do you think recent events on the mountain might affect the conversation?
D.H.: Having Jim Whitaker back at the festival and Tom Hornbein at the festival for the first time is just wonderful. Our roots are so immersed in alpinism. These guys, their achievements are so remarkable.
But Everest is problematic these days. The 2012 season was a bit of circus, and the 2013 season is certainly starting out that way with the massive fight and all this controversy. There was a picture in Outside Magazine that just stuck with me. There was just a line of hundreds of people with all their gear, their packs, and everything just lined up to get on up that mountain. I thought to myself, I wouldn’t want to do that in New York City. Why would you want to do it there?
There’s been this boiling over of tensions and issues on Everest. So this year isn’t surprising. I read a lot of the comments about the fight on Adventure Journal and a lot of people are saying, “Enough with Everest. This is nuts.” What happened sounds so ugly, all around on every level from the Europeans to the Sherpas. It just sounded really horrible, and I’ll be really curious what Hornbein and Whittaker will have to say. And we’ll also have Conrad Anker here at the festival. There will be a lot of people here who have climbed Everest. There’s clearly something wrong going on at the top of the world.
J.M.: What about the program itself? Are there any particular highlights you want us to know about?
D.H.: There are a lot of terrific films—this year seems to be a particularly banner year for documentaries. A lot of films that would have normally made it into the festival didn’t make it this year just because the quality of the submissions was so good. I’m really excited about the Crash Reel. I think it’s a really important film that will save lives. And we’re particularly pleased that we helped support it with a MountainFilm Commitment Grant. Lucy Walker, who directed it, is just a remarkable filmmaker and Kevin Pearce will be here.
We’re also playing the American Everest film High & Hallowed by Jake Norton. We’ll have the world premiere of that and that will be exciting. And then there’s just a ton of other stuff. The list just goes on. There are a lot of films that are not necessarily traditional Mountainfilm films. Life According to Sam, about a young teenage boy with progeria, which is an aging disease, is just beautiful. God Loves Uganda, by Roger Ross Williams, who won an Oscar for Music by Prudence, is about gays in Uganda, being persecuted by in a lot of cases American Christians. That’s just a really important film. And Lunarcy, which we love, is about people obsessed with the moon and that played at South By Southwest.
We’re doing three different films this year that are about war. Which Way Is the Front Line From Here? is about Tim Hetherington, the war corespondent who was killed in Libya in 2011. Manhunt is about the hunt for Bin Laden. And Dirty War is about secret U.S. forces and drones in Yemen and other countries that we’re not technically at war with. Those films I think are saying a lot about what America’s role is in the world right now which is so complicated.
And then, of course , we have films about climate solutions. We’re showing Pandora’s Promise. I think a lot of people will be talking about that and nuclear power. We have a film called the Last Ocean, about the raw sea, which is quite beautiful. Black Fish which is about a killer orca at Sea World.
And then Gasland 2. I think it’s a really important film. It’s the sequel to Gasland, which just premiered at Tribeca. Josh Fox will be here. We’re at a pivotal time in this country, and this film is about how we get our energy. I think looking from a climate-solutions perspective, it’s really important that we consider everything, but it’s also important that we don’t do everything. A lot of these film are trying to say, there’s a way to do this right and there’s a way to it wrong. Tearing up a whole lot of our landscape to pull fossil fuels out of the ground in some really rough ways may not be the best way to go about this. And I think a film like Gasland 2 really looks at some of the real both environmental and human costs of this.
There are films that, again, I think people won’t necessarily think of right off the bat as “Mountainfilms.” There’s a film called Tiny about people who live in really small houses. We’re playing a film that’s really neat called X-Mas Without China. It’s a young Chinese American who starts asking his neighbors if they would try and have Christmas without buying anything Chinese. Yeah, it doesn’t leave you with a lot of options.
I think all these things are tied together. Whether it’s extraction or consumerism, these are all different kinds of adventures, and I think we’re really open to that at Mountainfilm. We look at each film and say: “Are these people striving to do something that’s different and unlike anybody else?” Just turn your head any-which-way at Mountainfilm and you’re going to find people who are.
J.M.: How has MountainFilm changed in the last 35 years to become what it is today?
D.H.: In a lot of ways I think it’s changed dramatically and in a lot ways I think it hasn’t changed at all. Where we started with alpinists and climbers, people who like to get away, they went to farthest reaches of this planet over the 35 years of our existence. If you asked people like David Breashears and Conrad Anker they would say those Himalayas that they’ve been going to for a long are looking different and that’s because of climate change. And what I like about those guys and lot of our people is they’re well aware. Yes, climbing is important to them, but they’re well aware of the real crises that we’re facing, whether it’s population or climate or water or food. They’re bringing an extra level of expertise and so I think it goes hand in hand with what the original vision was for MountainFilm that we’ve expanded.
I think there’s sometimes when we’ll see a film that’s a stretch and we have to say no because it’s too much of a stretch. But there are a lot of times when we say our audience is used to being stretched at this point and they’re psyched to see a film like Life According to Sam, which is just so beautiful. And in the end a kid like Sam embodies what our tag is about which is celebrating the indomitable spirit and I look at that as a real measure for whether or not a film should be in. It’s celebrates this and that’s important.
This interview originally appeared in the National Geographic Adventure blog Beyond the Edge on May 21, 2013
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