The scene is set with two young women — Sophie Windsor Clive and Liberty Smith — on a casual canoe trip on the River Shannon in Ireland. Under heavy skies, they make their way to a bird-infested island where they witness a gathering of starlings — a “murmuration” — that is so phenomenal and surreal that it's almost poetry in motion. If this story sounds familiar, it might be because their simple, two-minute film — called Murmuration — went viral last year. Island is a longer, yet equally compelling, version of an unforgettable paddling adventure.
“You shouldn’t have to convince people to go to paradise,” says Yosemite National Park Ranger Shelton Johnson. As an African American, he is unsettled by the fact that only 1 percent of those who visit Yosemite share his race. The Way Home: Returning to the National Parks follows the brief journey of a group of African American seniors from Los Angeles, California, as they experience these sacred lands. Made by Amy Marquis, with the support of the National Park Conservation Association, the film shows not only what people of color are missing, it also imparts their historic relationship with the park. Affable ranger Johnson — who came to Mountainfilm in 2009 with the debut of Ken Burns’s national parks series — is looking to reverse the trend by reminding African Americans that they have a long-standing connection to Yosemite: After the Civil War, the U.S. Army’s Buffalo Soldiers were dispatched to the Western frontier and became the park’s first stewards.
Punk rock and human rights don’t necessarily share a common cause, but in the case of the band Blackfire, their music and their message are two integral parts of a solid and strong identity. Born into the heart of the Navajo Nation in an area on Black Mesa that is still in political dispute, band members (and siblings) Jeneda, Clayson and Klee Benally find it impossible to separate their passion for music from their socio-political messages. Mixing pure punk rock on electric equipment with Native American words, rhythm and sometimes dance, their music carries messages about government oppression, relocation of indigenous people, genocide and other rights issues that are often suppressed in this country’s dominant media culture — and their outreach doesn’t stop on the stage.
Ernest Wilkerson is struggling to hold onto an independent lifestyle while facing a changing world and his own advancing age. Born in 1924, this humble mountain man cherishes his active life: “I cannot picture myself just sittin’ around doing nothin’.” A local legend in Monte Vista, Colorado, Wilkerson learned to fend for himself at a young age, becoming a government-hired wildlife trapper, taxidermist, conservationist and teacher of backcountry survival skills. His specialty is snow caves, but he says, “Your best survival tool is your brain.”
This film isn’t really about either baseball or cholera. Instead, it concentrates on the playfulness and joy of the game as it nudges up against and intermingles with the death and despair of the disease after the 2011 earthquake in Haiti. It’s more a film about incongruities and complexities, unforeseen consequences and unending hope. It’s also about good intentions that can bring bad results. Ultimately, though, this film is simply about the unending tragedy of poverty.