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The Scene

An ink-stained magazine writer reports from his film fest initiation at Telluride’s Mountainfilm.

Each May, documentary filmmakers and several thousand viewers arrive in Telluride, Colorado, the country’s most beautiful dead-end town. The Mountainfilm festival’s three-day program distracts the visitors from the sublime natural amphitheater of cliffs and the last snowfields resisting the spring sun. Mountainfilm brings an international buffet of documentary films and morning coffee talks with mountain luminaries such as Guns, Germs, and Steel author Jared Diamond, National Geographic photographer Nevada Wier, and rock jock Alex Honnold. Each event feels like an intimate gathering among friends.

Memorial Day weekend marked my first visit to Mountainfilm. Or any film festival, for that matter. Who Owns Water, a film my brother Michael and I filmed and produced, was graciously accepted by the Telluride festival and supported by a 2013 Mountainfilm Commitment Grant. With print and photography backgrounds, we were a little wary of The Scene. I imagined a film line-up heavy on Cineflex drone footage of shirtless cliffhanger dudes. Or skiers shralping the gnar as rave music looped. I’m happy to report I was wrong.

I couldn’t see all the movies—no one can. But a few stood out. Ben Knight and Travis Rummel’s laser sharp yet quirky voices come alive in DamNation, a Patagonia-backed look at the state of American dams and rivers. Ben Stookesbury’s Walled In (see the trailer above) captures a badass Sierra Nevada steep creek mission with humor to match the high stakes. A group of surfers give a Wes Anderson spin to a two-week session on remote British Columbia beaches in The Fortune Wild. The hard-core cinéma vérité documentary E-Team departs from the mountain theme for the human rights tragedies of Syria. And my favorite film of the weekend, Freedom Summer, goes back 50 years to a terrifying and triumphant summer of grassroots civil rights activism in Mississippi.

Around the film showings, Mountainfilm cognoscenti networked in the streets, the bars, the coffee houses, and could even be spotted clad in hard hats in an old mine shaft where a fire-art party raged until dawn. As for The Scene, on the final night, I spotted Susan Sarandon in a bar and shared Thai food with the writer and mountaineer David Roberts and the famed alpinist Conrad Anker.

Hey, this was my first film fest. So, yes, I will name drop.  —David Hanson

Who Owns Water

A water war that could reshape East Coast water policy—and the catfish, gators, dams, power plants, swamps, and river folk caught in the middle. Produced and co-directed by David Hanson, Michael Hanson, and Andrew Kornylak. whoownswater.org

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