What makes Mountainfilm in Telluride, Colorado superior to any other film festival I've been to? What a loaded question! For starters, MF's mission is to not only entertain, but also to educate and inspire audiences. The documentary films shown are focused primarily on environmental and cultural issues. But it's not just film screenings...there are symposiums featuring world-renowned speakers, authors, and activists; special performances; thematic art and photography exhibits; and intimate conversations referred to as "coffee talks" with some of the brightest minds I've ever come into contact with. I can say with absolute certainty that I left Telluride a more informed, balanced and inspired person.
Some of my favorite Mountainfilm 2011 moments were...
Watching Prudence Mabhena, the subject of the Oscar-winning short documentary Music By Prudence, perform live to a packed house.
Seeing the compelling documentary Happy directed by Academy Award-nominated Roko Belic. What constitutes happiness? The film introduces you to some incredible, culturally diverse characters across 14 countries that explore that question and so much more...from the bayou in Louisiana to Denmark to the Bushmen in Namibia. This is one of the most important films I have ever had the pleasure of watching and I urge you all to check it out. It's more than a film; it's a movement.
Running into Dan Austin, the founder of 88 Bikes, at a coffee shop in town. I had sadly missed his "DIY in Action" symposium, but was aware of his project. It all started in 2006, when Dan arranged for 88 children in Cambodia to each get their own bike - and raised the money to make it happen in two weeks.
From the website: ...the organization gave 88 bikes to 88 kids at the Palm Tree Orphanage in Phnom Penh, Cambodia in January 2007. In January of 2008, 88bikes completed its second project with the Global Youth Partnership for Africa in Patongo, Uganda, donating 200 bikes to children at a refugee camp in this war-torn region of Northern Uganda. 88bikes has since added endowment locations in Uganda, Peru, Vietnam, Nepal, India, Ghana, Mongolia and Tanzania. In addition, 88bikes provides the kids with bike maintenance training, safety workshops, group bike rides, and bike-based job skills.
Talk about global impact on a grassroots level. Each individual donation is $88 - the approximate cost of a bike in most developing countries. This project is amazing on so many levels to me, but other than the obvious underprivileged-kids-gettings-bikes bit, my favorite thing about it is that all individual donations are used to purchase and assemble the bikes (which are purchased in-country) and for local transportation, so that means 100% of the donated money goes directly into the country's local economy.
In an email after meeting Dan, he said about 88bikes: "It's been a tremendous project that just continues to gain momentum. Nothing so uplifting as seeing a child happy, reconnecting with [his or] her abbreviated childhood."
[Both above photos via 88bikes]
Aaron Huey is a photographer that has been working in South Dakota's Pine Ridge Indian Reservation for the past six years. He recently collaborated with Shepard Fairey and Ernesto Yerena to create The Pine Ridge Billboard Project - an awareness campaign about the dire situation of the Lakota tribe living there.
From the project's website: The grim statistics on Native Reservations today are the equivalent to that of a 3rd world country, revealing the legacy of colonization and treaty violations. Unemployment on the Reservation fluctuates between 80-90%. Many are homeless, and those with homes are packed into rotting buildings with up to 5 families. More than 90% of the population lives below the federal poverty line. The life expectancy for men is 47 years old - roughly the same as Afghanistan and Somalia.
Here's the installation set up during the Mountainfilm gallery walk.
After discovering and falling in love with country and bluegrass music (specifically Jimmie Rodgers), Toshio moved to the US when he was only 17 years old. Though he performs solely old country tunes, he did play the one and only song he's ever written...it was (for lack of a better word) HILARIOUS, and called "Honey Dip Baby" - inspired by a Dunkin Donuts excursion. We actually got it on video but accidentally deleted it (fudge!)...but just let your imagination take hold. And check out the trailer to Waiting On A Train here.
Toshio Hirano is a great example of how MF doesn't just cover heavy issues but injects light-hearted fun events into the festival as well. Another example of this is when they close down Main Street for The Ice Cream Social and serve up yummy local, organic ice cream to the masses. In an effort to have zero-waste for the festival, they don't give out any single-use materials (bottles, utensils, cups, etc.). This means there were no spoons provided for people (like me) who got my ice cream in a waffle cone bowl. I love this idea but forgot to bring bamboo utensils with me on the trip. So, though there are no photos of me doing this, I definitely waited for my ice cream to melt and drank it like a milkshake. High five!
This was Matt's third year with a film at Mountainfilm, and I'm so ecstatic that I was able to go along this year. The people I met were unforgettable and the overall vibe of the festival...the staff, the audiences, the town...it was just, well, INSPIRING.