Each Mountainfilm has its indelible moments — films, conversations, connections and people who make my heart grow wings and spark new fires in my soul. Mountainfilm 2015 was no exception; we stuffed a year’s worth of inspiration, plus extra for good measure, into four short days. As the new program director at Mountainfilm, I was not in that delicious position of going into a program unaware and being broadsided by wisdom, story and spirit. But that didn’t preclude me for having my own set of unforgettable moments. Here’s my highlight reel:
The opening night filmmakers dinner. A winter storm warning was in effect. It was supposed to be nuclear. Instead, the clouds parted, the sun peeked out and the sunset seemed to last for two magical hours. Every second that went by when a snowflake wasn’t falling felt like a miracle.
Farzana Wahidy presentation at the Moving Mountains Symposium. This incredible individual left the symposium audience speechless with her arresting and intimate images of Afghan women and her own story of overcoming huge odds to become a pioneering female Afghan photojournalist. Some of her images were so potent that she didn’t offer any words of explanation, and she didn’t need to. The image of the naked, scarred torso of the woman who had suffered horrible burns — which Wahidy held on the screen long enough to let sink in and then some — will stay with me for years.
A conversation with Sebastian Junger. After Junger’s tremendous symposium presentation, I caught up with him in the High Camp lobby, where he was examining Clay Wadman’s exquisite Yosemite maps. I congratulated him on his speech, and we ended up deep in conversation about PTSD, military operations and the paramount role community plays in human happiness. It was one of those electrifying conversations that readjusted the way I view the world.
Behind the curtains on opening night. It’s Friday night at the Sheridan Opera House, and I’m standing behind the curtain waiting for my cue to introduce the opening show to a sold-out crowd when Ben Knight’s intro lights up the screen. I’m overwhelmed with a combination of nerves, excitement and gratitude, and I’m trying to dance the jitters out when I’m hit with the big realization that the months of the hard work have cumulated in this: my favorite weekend of the year, my favorite festival in the universe and my favorite people of all time. The subsequent screenings of Denali and Meru make the audience laugh, cry, sigh, gasp and take in these incredible stories with compassion and respect.
Small room, massive insight. I was fortunate enough to score a seat at Saturday’s Coffee Talk, “The Writing Life,” with Cheryl Strayed and John Vallaint. My only regret is that I didn’t take a recorder because I wanted to burn each word into my brain. The stories, advice and anecdotes shared by these writers provided enough wisdom, insight and eloquence to fill Yankee Stadium. As an aspiring writer, it was tremendously inspiring. But even if I wasn’t obsessed with words and stories, the conversation would have been soul nourishing.
Val Geissler. Need I say more? This soft-hearted cowboy — who calls himself a “mushpot” — was touching as the mentor to the young riders in Unbranded. Seeing him tear up and then belt out “Ghost Riders” on the Palm stage was the cherry on top of one of my favorite films of the festival.
Humor, humans and man’s best invention. I had the honor of interviewing Bob Mankoff, cartoon editor of the vaunted The New Yorker, for our Minds of Mountainfilm series. Mankoff, who has a razor sharp wit and a singular view of the world, talked about alien abduction, humor as a human condition and man’s best invention: the indoors.
Taking 2015 poster artist James Robertson on a bike ride. Professional photographer James Robertson hails from Edinburgh, Scotland, where he is accustomed to soggy sea-level mountain biking. Festival Director David Holbrooke and I were psyched to show him grunty San Juan Mountain singletrack, testing the bounds of his lungs in the aspen groves just west of town. It’s always special sharing something you love with a stranger, which is precisely what he did when he said we could use his incredible image for Mountainfilm’s festival poster this year.
Seeing the smiling, generous and beautiful faces of so many people I love and admire in one tiny valley. At times, I felt like my heart was going to explode with gratitude.