The Mountainfilm festival began in 1979, a time when Telluride was completing its transition from a hard-rock gold and silver mining community to a destination resort and ski town. The new era ushered vital fresh energy and economic life into Telluride’s beautiful box canyon, and the area's rugged mountains remained the leading attraction.
It was Lito Tejada-Flores, fresh from screening his now-classic adventure and mountaineering film Fitzroy at the Trento festival in Italy, and Bill Kees, a local climber and avid outdoorsman, who inaugurated Mountainfilm. Over three nights at the historic Sheridan Opera House, they screened a dozen films, all about mountains: mountain sports, mountain cultures, mountain issues. During the days, the audiences took to the mountains themselves, climbing the thirteen- and fourteen-thousand-foot peaks with skis; kayaking the San Miguel River; and engaging in spirited conversations about the importance of wild places, adventure, art and action.
The first festivals attracted leading names in mountaineering and exploration: Royal Robbins, Yvon Chouinard, David Breashears and others. With their help, the Memorial Day weekend event quickly became a not-to-be-missed tradition for an ever-expanding circle of pioneers in diverse fields — from athletes to environmentalists and scientists to poets. Mountains soon became as much a metaphorical theme as a literal one and, as the festival expanded in size and recognition, its programming readily stretched to the leading edges of contemporary issues.
In 1999, Mountainfilm grew the scope of its operation significantly with the introduction of Mountainfilm on Tour. By taking festival films to theaters across the country and internationally, Mountainfilm accessed large and diverse new audiences that would otherwise have no window into the filmmakers’ unique and important work.
Today, the annual Mountainfilm festival occupies dozens of venues in Telluride and Mountain Village and fills the two towns with inspiring thinkers and doers. In addition to showcasing leading independent films and filmmakers, the weekend now includes speakers, panels, gallery exhibits of art and photography, book signings, coffee talks, student programs, music, outdoor programs and street parties. The essential combination that first set the festival apart, though — friends, adventure, passion and powerful ideas — remains firmly intact.
What's with the Prayer Flags?
Prayer flags have adorned the Town of Telluride during the annual Mountainfilm festival since the first-ever Moving Mountains Symposium was dedicated to the Tibetan people's struggle for freedom in 1994. We acknowledge that prayer flags are a long-standing and intrinsic part of Tibetan culture and continue today to be used to send prayers of peace and well-being to all beings. The meaning of this Tibetan custom aligns with Mountainfilm’s culture and values, and so, since 1994, prayer flags have become a respected and important part of the festival.
Prayer flags originate centuries ago from the Bön tradition in Tibet, where they are hung to remove obstacles and bring good fortune. Later with the advent of Buddhism, the practice of offering prayer flags was adapted with the printing of specific Buddhist prayers. The offering of prayer flags is now a common practice across Tibet and the Himalayas. This practice has proliferated around the world.
Prayer flags (Tibetan: དར་ལྕོག་) are printed in five colors – blue for the sky, white for air/wind, red for fire, green for water and yellow for earth – and are traditionally woodblock-printed with sacred images and texts. The center of the flag often depicts a lungta (Tibetan: རླུང་རྟ་) meaning wind horse, a symbol of speed and transformation of bad fortune to good, bearing three jewels on its back that represent the Buddha, Buddhist teachings and the Buddhist community. Images of four sacred animals – dragon, garuda, tiger and snow lion – can appear in the corners. Covering the rest of the flag are versions of many mantras (powerful ritual utterances) and prayers for peace and harmony.
Tibetan and Himalayan peoples believe that when the wind breezes the flags, it spreads the blessings, good will and compassion embodied in the images and writings across the land. Eventually, the prints fade and the prayers become part of the universe, and the prayer flags are renewed.