We Mountainfilm folk have been hearing a lot of declarations that the 2015 edition of the festival was "the best ever.” It’s a wonderful compliment, but, of course, there are no objective measures for such a designation and, honestly, the phrase has been bandied about before. During a Holbrooke family post-fest discussion, my wife asked me if I thought it was indeed the “best ever.” The question gave me pause because I’d never contemplated the best Mountainfilm.
So what’s my opinion?
For me, it was my favorite festival since I became festival director before in 2008. This year, our programming was particularly strong. We weathered, so to speak, some unusual climate conditions. And most of all, I was enormously proud of how our staff united to pull this one off. It was particularly challenging considering that our longtime colleagues — the previous executive director Peter Kenworthy and program director Emily Long — have moved on to other opportunities. Their successors, Sage Martin and Katie Klingsporn, however, jumped into complicated new roles and handled the change with equal amounts of questions and aplomb. For us grizzled veterans, it was a pleasure to see them as a big part of the festival’s success.
This year was particularly special for me because of screening my film, The Diplomat, at the festival. After showcasing so many talented people’s work over the last eight years, it was gratifying to create some work of my own and I was deeply touched by the positive response. The story of my father was a tough one to tell, but when I look at the 2015 lineup with a little more clarity and distance, I see many other films with father/son (and daughter) themes running through the stories.
I promise you this was unintentional, but the story of such relationships ran through a variety of films, including Unbranded (with Val Geissler’s lost son and his bond with the boys), The Important Places (which addresses a poem from father to son); Very Semi-Serious (in which Robert Mankoff acts as surrogate father to some of the cartoonists he mentors and experiences the tragic loss of his son) and The Fisherman’s Son (where surfer Ramon Navarro starts in a Chilean fishing family and ends up an international surfing superstar). Fatherhood also runs deep through several other films, such as The Last Patrol (where Sebastian Junger’s characters talk about troubling relationships with their fathers); Meru (in which Conrad Anker’s role as father to his late climbing partner’s sons is highlighted); The Man Behind the Mask (as Mike Libecki works to meld his place as father with his status as global adventurer) and How to Change the World (where we learn how Robert Hunter of Greenpeace inspired his daughter to set out to change the world).
As we were making The Diplomat, I felt we had a film that tells a global story about foreign policy in America, as well as an honest and thoughtful portrayal of fatherhood. Judging from the reception, it’s a theme that resonates.
It was great to hear how Mountainfilm appealed to audiences this year, and while the question of “best festival ever” remains up for debate I do know that we’re already working toward 2016—and I hope to beat that title.
—David Holbrooke, Mountainfilm Festival Director