If you’re anything like me you enjoy watching independent documentary films and hanging out in laid-back mountain towns—like Telluride, Colorado, where I recently spent a string of days filming Outside Television’s coverage of Mountainfilm alongside my co-host, Lynsey Dyer. Admittedly it’s the most anticipated weekend of my year filled with inspired conversations, chance encounters (like sharing a gondola ride with famed environmentalist Bill McKibben) and of course, groundbreaking films.
Whether on assignment across the globe or exploring his own backyard in Bermuda, Outside Television correspondent David LaHuta brings you the latest news and updates from the life outside. Read about his adventures every Tuesday or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/DavidLaHuta.
If you’re anything like me you enjoy watching independent documentary films and hanging out in laid-back mountain towns—like Telluride, Colorado, where I recently spent a string of days filming Outside Television’s coverage of Mountainfilm alongside my co-host, Lynsey Dyer. Admittedly it’s the most anticipated weekend of my year filled with inspired conversations, chance encounters (like sharing a gondola ride with famed environmentalist Bill McKibben) and of course, groundbreaking films. After all, Mountainfilm in Telluride has been screening socially conscious documentary films since its inception in 1979. The festival is ground zero for big ideas and this year was no exception.
Like the film, On Coal River. Directed by Adams Wood and Francine Cavanaugh, the documentary traces the harmful effects of mountain top removal (MTR) on a rural West Virginia town. More specifically, on a secondary school in Coal River Valley that’s threatened by toxic waste from an MTR operation run by coal mining company Massey Energy. It’s heartbreaking and triumphant and like most films at the festival, one hundred percent thought provoking.
Another documentary that got Telluride talking was Bidder 70, Beth and George Gage’s work-in-progress about climate activist Tim DeChristopher. The pair started filming him soon after he was arrested for disrupting a federal oil-and-gas-lease auction in December 2008 and have followed him through his recent conviction in March. To the Gage’s credit, they debuted several scenes from their uncompleted film—a bold move that delighted Mountainfilm audiences, myself included.
Of course, the festival is also known for great adventure films and this year didn’t disappoint. Crowds were treated to Towers of the Ennedi, a film by Renan Ozturk that follows four climbers as they scale clusters of rock spires in the Ennedi Desert deep in northeastern Chad; Chasing Water by Peter McBride, about his 1,500-mile journey down the slowly-drying Colorado River; and Kadoma, from kayaker Ben Stookesberry about the death of legendary waterman Hendri Coetzee while paddling for a first descent of the Congo’s Lukuga River.
With so many inspiring films to choose from, it’s hard to pick a favorite but I did have two. Trip Jennings’ film Spoil, which follows the International League of Conservation Photographers in their search for the elusive spirit bear in British Columbia, offered a rare glimpse of a stunningly beautiful landscape. And Matt Morris’ short film Mr. Happy Man just made me smile, since it follows Bermudian Johnny Barnes as he greets morning commuters each day with a wave and a kiss (don’t forget, I live in Bermuda; Johnny’s a living legend on the island).
Truly, it was another inspirational weekend in Telluride and the good news is you’ll be able to watch these films and more on the Outside Film Festival, which begins airing new episodes this fall.
One of the greatest parts about hosting Outside Television’s coverage of Mountainfilm is being exposed to the festival’s endless catalog of groundbreaking documentaries. Films like Gasland, a documentary from last year’s festival by director Josh Fox about the harmful effects of natural gas drilling that was recently nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary.
One of the greatest parts about hosting Outside Television’s coverage of Mountainfilm is being exposed to the festival’s endless catalog of groundbreaking documentaries. Films like Gasland, a documentary from last year’s festival by director Josh Fox about the harmful effects of natural gas drilling that was recently nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary. It’s an incredible honor indeed, problem is, some folks aren’t too happy about it—mainly representatives of the oil and gas industry who don’t agree that hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, threatens the environment.
In an unprecedented move, an industry lobbying group called Energy In Depth—one set up by Haliburton, BP, Shell and other companies—sent a letter to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences saying that the film should be ineligible for best documentary feature because it contains inaccuracies. “The many errors, inconsistencies and outright falsehoods catalogued … cast serious doubt on Gasland’s worthiness for this most honored award, and directly violate both the letter and spirit of the published criteria that presumably must be met by Gasland’s competitors in this category," the letter said.
The organization, which has an entire section devoted to Gasland on its website called Debunking Gasland, even took a jab at Fox and the actor Mark Ruffalo, who appears in the film, for visiting Congress to support a bill for government regulation of hydraulic fracturing. “It’s clear that this event, scripted by a Hollywood publicist one week before the Academy Awards, is focused on achieving staged drama and inside-the-beltway chatter," Energy in Depth said in a statement.
Not surprisingly Josh Fox is fighting back.
“The gas industry believes it can create a new reality in which their nationwide onshore drilling campaign isn't a disaster,” wrote Fox in a recent Truthout Op-Ed. “But no amount of PR money or slick ads can keep the stories of contamination coming from thousands of Americans from being any less true. We stand behind the testimonials, facts, science and investigative journalism in the film 100 percent.”
Fox is so sure of his film’s findings that he’s posted a point-by-point rebuttal of the group’s claims on his website called Affirming Gasland. Among other arguments, it reiterates how fracking injects hundreds of toxic chemicals imbedded in huge quantities of water up to 8,000 feet below the Earth’s surface—a process that contaminates the environment in potentially irreversible ways.
No matter your stance, the film offers compelling evidence that fracking should be banned. I remember sitting in the audience at Mountainfilm last year, watching in horror as a rural man lit his drinking water on fire, most likely contaminated by methane gas that leaked into his water supply after a natural gas drilling operation set up outside his home. It’s documentary film making at its best and certainly worthy of the Oscar spotlight. As Maurice D. Hinchey, U.S. Representative (NY-22) recently said, “Thanks to Gasland and the millions of grassroots activists across the country, we finally have a counterweight to the influence of the oil and gas industry in our nation's capital,” which seems reason enough to keep this eye-opening Mountainfilm documentary in this weekend’s Hollywood race.
To learn more about David LaHuta's life in Bermuda read Bermuda Shorts at http://DavidLaHuta.blogspot.com
And to follow his adventures on Twitter visit https://twitter.com/DavidLaHuta