Climate Change through the Eyes of a Climate Artist

 the late 1990s, while my brother, Cameron, was assistant director of 
Mountainfilm, I was a regular. So I’m excited to return after 
more than a decade’s hiatus, and it’s fortuitous that the word in the 
air this year is “wilderness.” Cameron wrote his senior college paper 
on the Wilderness Act, perhaps inspired by a class we both took with the legendary philosopher-turned-environmental-historian Bill Cronon. Cronon taught us how our mental concept of 
wilderness and nature affected how we manifest ourselves on the 
landscape, whether we were conscious of it or not.

 year was 1988, and climate change wasn’t yet on my radar. In fact, it 
was just stepping onto the public stage. The IPCC was formed that year, 
and Jim Hansen gave his now-historical first testimony on climate change
 before the U.S. Senate. A year later, Bill McKibben published the first 
book on the subject for the general public, The End of Nature,
 in which he pointed out the surreal realization that an 
untouched nature wasn’t possible anymore, now that we’ve changed the 


Edward Abbey’s life is explored in this entertaining ramble through the environmental history of the Southwest. His life was the stuff of legend, but his legacy is the myriad of eco-activists he inspired — from the inimitable Katie Lee, who threw herself into the fight against Glen Canyon, to Tim DeChristopher of Bidder 70 (Mountainfilm 2012).

Winter Light

Dawn patrol on an inky winter morning leads to a contemplative climb through a snowbound world, a cold and starkly beautiful place imbued with solitude and the purity of winter light. When daylight turns and the summit is achieved, the only place to go is down.

Who Owns Water

Water wars have always been heated in the American southwest desert, where water is scarce and droughts are frequent, but the same quarrels were once unthinkable in lusher areas of the country. That’s changing as Georgia, Alabama and Florida are locked in a battle over water from their once-bountiful rivers. Two young brothers decide to paddle the three rivers in the Appalachiacola–Chattahoochee–Flint River Basin to tell the story of a system that still flows, though it’s threatened from all sides. Who Owns Water received a Mountainfilm Commitment Grant in 2013.

When Dogs Fly

Dean Potter has pushed the boundaries of what can be done in the climbing world for years. He has repeatedly set the speed record for climbing The Nose in Yosemite, and he caused great controversy in 2006 by climbing Delicate Arch in Utah. Recently, he’s funneled much of his considerable energy into being in air instead of on rock.

The Weight of Mountains

The Weight of Mountains

We should never take mountains lightly. Because, as this short film makes beautifully clear, the processes that combine to create, sustain and, ultimately, destroy the world’s mountains are elemental, powerful and deep with meaning — meaning that may exceed our capacity to measure. One line from the narration captures the essence of mountains perfectly: “All the good and evil things that happen in the world are of no consequence to the magnitude of their scale.”

Walled In

Ostensibly, Walled In is the story of a first descent of the rowdy Marble Fork of the Kaweah River in Sequoia National Park by kayakers Ben Stookesbury and Chris Korbulic, but this film poses bigger questions than whether the pair can send a river that flows from above 12,000 feet in elevation to near sea level in less than 30 miles.

Vultures of Tibet

On the Tibetan Plateau in Western China, the material culture of a rapidly modernizing society clashes with the customs and practices of a rich spiritual tradition. The differences between Chinese secularity and the deep faith of Buddhist Tibetans are pronounced. In this film about sky burial — a sacred ritual where the bodies of the Tibetan dead are fed to wild griffon vultures — these differences are starkly portrayed.


This stunning documentary is so well crafted that it feels like fiction. Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is Africa’s oldest national park, a UNESCO world heritage site and the last intact habitat for the critically endangered mountain gorilla. Virunga follows the story of an almost unimaginable storm of corruption and war that threatens the park’s survival. An oil reserve is discovered, and a young French female journalist goes undercover to reveal unethical and bigoted oil officials. Rebels attempt to overthrow the Congolese government.


Warship blockades and furious protests often await Rebecca Gomperts and her Women on Waves team when they sail their ship to foreign ports and offer women access to the abortion pill. In many of the countries they visit — such as Morocco, Ireland, Ecuador and Tanzania — abortion is illegal and controversial, but Gomperts’ approach is to transport women 12 miles offshore into international waters. There on the open seas, the laws of her ship take jurisdiction, and she can provide services to women in need legally.