Telluride Mountainfilm Tour Climbs to the Top

Eastern Rises is one of 11 short films included in this year's Telluride Mountainfilm Tour.

This week the Telluride Mountainfilm Tour made its way from Colorado to California, packing UCSB’s largest lecture hall almost to the brim on Wednesday night for a showing of nine short films.

The shorts ranged from several minutes to half an hour in length, from fishing to mountain climbing in topic, and from sentimental to humorous in tone. In all, the ensemble of films was entirely enjoyable to watch, taking the audience on a rollercoaster of emotion and through a wide range of environmental and cultural issues.

The Mountainfilm Festival began in Telluride, Colorado, 33 years ago, and recently took to the road in 2000 to bring its films and messages to a broader audience. The Mountainfilm Tour seeks to, “educate and inspire audiences about issues that matter, cultures worth exploring, environments worth preserving, and conversations worth sustaining.” But mostly the Fest brings the energy and passion of people and the sports they love straight to you or me. The Mountainfilm Tour tailors its showings to the audiences it visits, and the UCSB audience was privy to a series of excellent films:


The night kicked off with a short entitled “As It Happens” (2010) which follows Renan Ozturk and Corey Bradshaw on their journey to the top of Nepal’s 6,000 meter Tawoche Himal as it happens. The footage comes from short video dispatches throughout their ascent, assembled into a lively, exciting short that seeks to bridge the gap between the crowd and the adventure. It’s a different kind of mountaineering film from the studio-shot and scripted post-adventure films that usually dominate the industry. Director Renan Ozturk previously won awards for “Samsara”, a film premiered at the 2009 Mountainfilm Festival.

Next up for the evening was “11 Degrees” (Anna Ewart, 2009) a documentary glimpse into the life of a Scottish ski attendant who faces a bad day—a day with a temperature of 11 degrees. The film deals with the issues of global warming and what that means for the ski industry, especially small resorts like this rural Scottish one. The film was heartwarming and humorous, the ski attendant never losing his good humor despite dwindling snow and slow tourism.

“Eastern Rises” was the longest of the films shown at 37 minutes (Ben Knight & Travis Rummel, 2010). A group of friends and passionate fisherman decide to travel to the end of the world—literally—and fly fish in the deserted Russian Kamchatka Peninsula. The fishers are like kids in a candy store, lighting up in the face of some of the biggest fish they’ve ever seen and some of the most beautiful scenery I’ve ever seen. Despite giant flies, bears, decrepit Soviet era helicopters, and even Bigfoot, the men do not waver in their enthusiasm as they fish rivers humans have never fished before. Ripe with humor and sincerity, the film examines issues of fishing, friendship, and doing something you love. Of all the films screened, this was possibly my favorite.

“Fishman” (Kathy Kasik, 2009) continued with the theme of fish, taking the audience underwater with Mike Kasik, otherwise known as “the fishman”. The Fishman spends most of his free time swimming the Yellowstone River with the native Yellowstone cutthroat trout, a slowly disappearing species. The film highlights the ecological issue of what happens when humans tamper with nature and the ramifications this often has. A serious little short, but an important one none-the-less.

The audience was treated to a short intermission (of sorts) next, in the form of an interview with Katie Lee, “the riverwoman”. This functioned as a part of Mountainfilm’s “50 Cents” series, in which host Alex Chadwick of NPR sets up a table and offers to pay people 50 cents if they give him a good story. Katie Lee relayed a fantastic description of the Glen Canyon in Arizona before the Glen Canyon Dam was built, and she does it in the brassy way only a 90-something-year-old possibly can.

The screenings took a slightly more sentimental and serious turn with the story of Bobby Vaughn, a surfer/clothes designer in the short “Facing the Waves” by Lee Quinby (2010). The movie delves into the transformative qualities of sport and how surfing has helped Bobby through the ups-and-downs of his tumultuous life; downs which have included being charged with murder, watching friends die, and being removed from his son for a period of years. But through his clothing company (“FTW”, which stands for a variety of things) and community presence, Bobby hopes to help the youth of Rockaway Beach, New York, avoid the pitfalls he faced and embrace the waves instead.

“Nico’s Challenge” (Steve Audette, 2009) was the most heartwarming film of the bunch, following the quest of 13-year old Nico Calabria and father Carl as they climb Mt. Kilimanjaro. The catch? Nico was born with only one-leg. This film, however, doesn’t fall into the trope of a boy overcoming adversity, but instead presents a boy with a big heart who wants to raise awareness for what matters to him. He sets out to climb the mountain with no doubts that he can, raising money with every step he takes to buy wheelchairs for the disabled in Tanzania.

“Point of No Return” was created as a tribute to alpinists Micah Dash, Jonny Cop, and their cameraman Wade Johnson, who died in an avalanche trying to scale the never-before-climbed east face of Mt. Edgar in China. (Peter Mortimer & Nick Rosen, 2009). The film incorporates footage taken during their time preparing for the trip and on the mountain itself, and blends it with footage from after their deaths. It’s a poignant film that seeks and succeeds to capture the spirits of two wildly passionate and adventurous young men who were not afraid to live life—an attitude the Mountainfilm Tour holds in high honors.

Wrapping up the evening was a creative animated short entitled “The Mouse That Soared” (Kyle Bell, 2009). This was the only film that felt out of place in the line-up, but served to lift the audience’s mood after the intensity invoked by “Point of No Return”. “The Mouse that Soared” is about a mouse that gets adopted by an ambitious pair of birds who are determined to teach him to fly. Full of cute laughs and tenderness, “The Mouse that Soared” reinforced the spirit of the festival: that nothing’s impossible if you give it your best shot and throw your whole heart into it.

With nearly 75 films total in its lineup, this is a mere sampling of what The Telluride Mountainfilm Tour has to offer this year. And if the rest of the films are half as good as the snippets I saw, then I highly recommend you check out a showing near you.

With tickets at only $10 bucks a pop, what’s to lose?


  1. Wow, a very well written piece! Sounds great!

  2. Sounds like a great festival with some amazing offerings. I see from the site that I missed a showing in my hometown–Ojai–last week. Too bad. : |