May 13, 2015

Telluride Mountainfilm: The Takeaway

I have been to dozens of festivals and conferences over the past decade, but none of them has affected me like my first time at Mountainfilm in 2010. A lot of us talk about changing the world, but in Telluride I met people who were actually doing it — a lot of them: Tim DeChristopher (Bidder 70), Rebiya Kadeer (The 10 Conditions of Love), Josh Fox (Gasland), Maya Lin (“What is Missing”), Louie Psihoyos (The Cove), Rip Patton (Freedom Riders), author and activist Terry Tempest Williams — to name a few. That May weekend felt like a summit meeting of change agents, and that’s not how film and book festivals usually feel. Never have I been so inspired, so activated, by a gathering (and never have I danced so hard in a cave).

As different as the participants were individually, they had one thing in common: When confronted with gross injustices, they responded with action — by saying, and then doing, the right thing, often at considerable risk to themselves. Seeing, hearing and meeting people like this was inspiring, for sure, but that wasn't the takeaway. For me, the takeaway was the challenge posed by their action. It called into question my role as a journalist and author and whether or not simply telling the story is enough.

That question still keeps me up at night, and it has been a major influence in my participation (physical and journalistic) in tar sands pipeline protests in the U.S. and Canada. It also informed my latest writing project, a thriller called The Jaguar’s Children, in which the narrator, a young Mexican from a corn-farming family with a complicated past, is caught in a life-and-death struggle with the forces driving illegal immigration.

For the past five years, the people and stories of Telluride Mountainfilm have been a touchstone for me on the journey — through life and through this book. So, I’m excited to be coming back. (And the closing night party kicks ass.)

John Vaillant

John Valliant will give a presentation about The Jaguar’s Children Sunday at 9:45 a.m. at the Sheridan Opera House. He will also take part in a Coffee Talk Saturday at 8 a.m. at Rustico.

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