Calvin Gentry drives his car around his Memphis, Tennessee, neighborhood, pointing out the park where fights break out, the corner store where he has witnessed shootings and telling stories of friends and relatives who are addicted to crack or in jail. His would be a dead-end life of crime, too, he admits candidly, if it were not for rugby. With little more than a ball and a patch of grass, the sport provides brotherhood, unity and a shot at a college scholarship for a group of inner city boys. When these rugby players work hard, there’s no stopping them. The Rugby Boys of Memphis is the inspiring success story of a team of resilient athletes.
In the remote Russian Arctic, an aging permafrost scientist and his son have been toiling for years on a plan that’s equal parts ambitious, fantastical and brilliant. Their goal: recreate the Ice Age by repopulating vast swaths of land with herbivores, such as bison, muskoxen and, eventually, lab-created mammoths. Their hope is that the animals will restore the forest back to grassland steppe, mitigating the effects of climate change. For Sergey and Nikita Zimov, Pleistocene Park isn’t only a short-term project about animals and habitat. It’s a life’s work seeking a solution for humanity, defusing a giant carbon bomb and reversing the ever-escalating effects of climate change. This poetic film by Mountainfilm Commitment Grantee Grant Slater highlights the human ingenuity and wide-ranging ambition at work in the climate crisis.
In the mist-shrouded mountains of Nepal’s Hongu River valley, the Kulung people carve their lives out of the land and practice an ancient form of animism structured around the god Rongkemi. There you will find a wiry and unassuming man named Mauli Dhan Rai, who is believed to be chosen by the gods for the perilous rite of honey harvesting. The task, which involves climbing rope ladders up sheer cliffs to cut down combs made by the world’s largest honeybee (before collecting the poisonous honey within), is extraordinarily dangerous. But it’s a spiritual pursuit soaked in myth that the Kulung believe taps directly into the gods. And with roads, technology and market forces, it may not be around for long. This film, a 2016 Mountainfilm Commitment Grant winner directed by Ben Knight, puts a spotlight on a remarkable practice under threat of modernity.