I woke on the first morning of Mountainfilm 2014 and looked out of the hotel window. Surrounded by mountains and beauty, I was already in awe of the journey our small film, Tashi and the Monk, was beginning to take. Our crew had travelled a long way from the foothills of the Himalaya to Telluride. But someone was missing. I called my girlfriend Danielle. “It’s amazing here,” I said. “You’ve really got to come”.
She was under a deadline, but she could hear the enthusiasm in my voice. Her fear of missing out got the better of her, so I went online and booked a ticket for her to join me the next day.
I awoke to a series of texts from the La Guardia runway. “Slight delay” became “They don’t have enough crew to fly the plane” then “I’m going to miss my connection.” Ugh. United had struck again.
When Danielle’s plane finally touched down in Denver, there were no more connections to Telluride that night. So while our film played its world premiere to the Mountainfilm audience, the airline sent my girlfriend to a sketchy motel on the outskirts of town with a $10 voucher for an evening meal. Things were not quite going as planned.
In the morning, Danielle was pretty ragged by the time she reached Grand Junction on a 6 a.m. flight. As she waited in the airport for a shuttle that would complete the final leg, she wondered aloud why this journey had been such a challenge. “We’re just waiting for three more passengers,” the driver told her. “They’re arriving on the next flight. Then we’ll get you straight up there”.
Those three passengers turned out to be heading to Mountainfilm, too, and half an hour later Danielle found herself careening through the Colorado landscape with Morgan Spurlock in the front seat and Sara Bernstein, SVP of programming at HBO, sitting beside her. Suddenly things made a little more sense.
And so it was that the SVP of programming at HBO found herself hearing, in great detail, all about a small school on the other side of the world, the remarkable monk who founded it, and the bootstrapping filmmakers who’d hustled together a film about this garden of love and compassion. I’m not sure exactly how long the impromptu shuttle pitch lasted, but by the time the minivan reached Telluride Sara had graciously promised Danielle she’d come to the screening. My girlfriend arrived smiling. Mountainfilm magic doesn’t just happen at the festival, but on the way there, too.
A few hours later: Saturday afternoon. A huge cinema full to the rafters. Crystal-clear projection. SVP of programming from HBO sitting two rows away.
It was the first time I, or anyone else, had seen the film on a screen that size. It went off like a dream. There were gasps and smiles and tears and amazing applause as the credits rolled. (And that was just Danielle.)
The film went on to get an extra screening and picked up the Norman Vaughan Indomitable Spirit and Moving Mountains Awards, which I thought was the icing on the cake of a hugely memorable Mountainfilm experience. But one week later, HBO’s SVP of programming called me: “What are your plans for the film?” she asked. “Maybe we can help…”
And that’s how we became part of the Mountainfilm family and the HBO family at pretty much the same time. A month later, I put a ring on Danielle’ finger (I’d be crazy not to — right?), and now after touring the U.S. for the past year with Mountainfilm on Tour, Tashi and the Monk will beam into millions of homes across the U.S. on August 17.
Tune in, it’ll be special.