It can easily be said that Mountainfilm in Telluride is without a doubt, the professional highlight of my year.
OUTSIDE TELEVISION BLOG
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.
It can easily be said that Mountainfilm in Telluride is without a doubt, the professional highlight of my year. Now celebrating its 35th anniversary, the festival screens groundbreaking independent documentary films from an inspiring community of athletes, activists and adventurers and for the past four years, I’ve been proud to host Outside Television’s coverage of the event alongside pro skier and all around badass, Lynsey Dyer (that’s us filming on Main St. this Memorial Day weekend).
So what makes Mountainfilm so great? How about the opportunity to interview some of the most influential explorers of our time for starters. For example, I had the honor of chatting with Jim Whittaker, the first American to successfully summit Mt. Everest in 1963. Now 84-years-young, Whittaker told me all about his historical climb up the world’s highest peak, which without fixed ropes, waterproof boots and fancy modern equipment was a very different place than it is now. I also had the pleasure of interviewing Erden Eruc, a Turkish American citizen who circumnavigated the globe under his own power. Yes, you heard right: For five years and 11 days Eruc biked, hiked, climbed and rowed his way around the Earth—an accomplishment never before achieved.
Of course, so much of Mountainfilm’s energy revolves around the films and this year was no different—but Cannes, this is not. Mountainfilm was originally started by climbers who wanted to climb by day and watch movies at night. Eventually the drive of the festival became one of conservation: If you want to enjoy the great outdoors then you must preserve the great outdoors. So with another outstanding lineup of socially aware documentaries and mind-blowing adventure films this year’s festival had some clear favorites. The climbing film High and Hallowed: Everest 1963 had crowds buzzing, since it brought Jim Whittaker’s historical summit and Tom Hornbein’s gutsy ascent of the West Ridge, to life. And I absolutely adored Maidentrip, a documentary that follows the youngest person in history to sail around the world, 16-year-old Laura Dekker, whose trip took just over two years. As I Tweeted at @mountainfilm, "I hope that I have the courage to allow my children to be as audacious as Laura Dekker. #amazing -- David LaHuta," the night I watched the film in the Palm Theater: I hope I have the courage to allow my children to be as audacious as that young girl.
Finally, no trip to Telluride would be complete without a little R&R. The spring and summer months couldn’t be a more beautiful time for mountain biking and the good folks at Bootdoctors by far, have the best bike rentals in town (try the Galloping Goose trail for an intermediate level downhill and Penelope for a kickass climb). Food and drink gold stars go to The New Sheridan for brews, bourbon and burgers; the Steaming Bean for coffee and karaoke; and The Brown Bag for the best sandwich on the block (the Snapshot with turkey, swiss, avocado and sriracha; yum!). And yes, the aforementioned spots are all winners, but for creative versions of Asian street food (think steamed duck buns or koke beef skewers with horseradish cream) coupled with the most well executed cocktails in town (blueberry jam gin drinks, anyone?), don’t miss There, by far the greatest restaurant in all of Telluride.
Big kudos to The River Club for a comfy place to stay (plus complimentary cookies, coffee and rides to town in its fancy Cadillac Escalade) and of course, to Festival Director David Holbrooke and the good folks at Mountainfilm, who without, this festival would be nearly as inspiring every Memorial Day weekend.
Telluride, I can’t wait to see you again next year.
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.
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.
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