June 1, 2024

2024 Festival Awards Announcement

Telluride, Colorado (May 30, 2024) – Audiences gathered in Telluride’s box canyon this Memorial weekend for the 46th annual Mountainfilm Festival to screen films that spanned the spectrum of environmentalism, social justice, adventure, and celebrate indomitable spirit. 

On Monday, May 27, Mountainfilm announced over $57,000 in cash prizes, along with one-of-a-kind sculptures by renowned artist R. Nelson Parrish, to winning films including: Sugarcane (Best Documentary Feature - $5,000); The Last Observers (Best Short Film - $1,000); Between the Mountain and the Sky (Audience Choice Feature - $5,000); A Symphony of Tiny Lights (Audience Choice Short - $1,000); Public Defender and its associated nonprofit The Pulitzer Center (Moving Mountains Award - $2,500); a tie between One with the Whale and Between the Mountain and the Sky (Student Choice Award - $2,000); Mountain Queen: The Summits of Lhakpa Sherpa (Charlie Fowler Best Adventure Film - $2,500), Ashima (Women in Film Award - $3,500), and One with the Whale (James Balog Creative Vision Award - $5,000). A special collaboration between Mountainfilm and Subject Matter awarded the film All We Carry with a $15,000 cash prize to support its outreach and impact, as well as $15,000 to the nonprofit Northwest Immigrant Rights Project

Special jury mentions went to Porcelain War (Best Feature Documentary), Jamie (Charlie Fowler Best Adventure Film), Until He’s Back (Best Short Film), and Love in the Time of Migration (Best Short Film).

The Best Documentary Feature jury consisted of Alex Schmider, Tracy Rector, and Meryl Poster. Jury members for Best Short Documentary were Daniel Lombroso, Meghan Oretsky, and Elise McCave, and jurors for the Charlie Fowler Best Adventure Film were Claire Carter, Sarah Lee Steele, and Jabi Baraiazarra.

This year, Mountainfilm and The Redford Center, in partnership with IF/Then Shorts, presented the Nature Connection Pitch during the festival, which awarded Symphony of Silence with a $30,000 production grant, with an additional award of $20,000 going to Follow the Water. Each of the remaining finalist teams received $7,000 in funding support, as well as impact and development training, travel and lodging.
“We were thrilled with the amount of festival support that Mountainfilm and our partners gave this year,” said Festival Director Suzan Beraza. “Between the Commitment Grants, Nature Connection Pitch, and festival awards, over $190,000 went to filmmakers and their projects. This is an all-time record!” 

Juries, passholders, and students cast their votes, with award winners announced at the festival’s Closing Picnic and Awards Ceremony in Telluride’s Town Park. 

Below are brief synopsis of this year’s winning films: 

Audience Choice Award - Between the Mountain and the Sky
In the wake of being honored as the 2015 CNN Hero of the Year, Maggie Doyne, a devoted CEO, humanitarian and guardian to over 50 Nepalese children, finds herself in the throes of an unimaginable tragedy. But a serendipitous encounter with a compassionate filmmaker reignites Maggie’s faith in the power of love. They embark on a profound journey to redefine what it means to be a family, navigating the intricate path of rebuilding their lives. Between the Mountain and the Sky is a poignant tale that delves into the resilience of the human spirit and showcases the enduring strength of a family determined to find hope.

Best Documentary Feature - Sugarcane
An investigation into unmarked graves at an Indian residential school ignites a reckoning in the lives of survivors and their descendants, including the film’s co-director whose father was born, and nearly buried, at the school. Sugarcane spotlights the lasting traumas inflicted upon Indigenous North Americans from the residential school system, including physical and sexual abuse, the separation of families and the destruction of Native culture and language. With empathy and grace, the filmmakers follow their subjects as they search for painful truths in the recesses of their memories and muster the courage to confront representatives of the church, government and their own families. The resilience of survivors and their descendants is celebrated in this poignant and compassionate film.

Best Short Film - The Last Observers
Lennart Karlsson and Karin Persson have recorded weather measurements every three hours — temperature, air pressure, wind, wave height and cloud types — at a lighthouse on the southwestern coast of Sweden for 36 years. The dedicated couple have amassed over 100,000 observations and seen rapid changes in recent years as migratory birds arrive earlier in the spring, and heavy rains and drought become more frequent. Theirs is the last remaining manual weather station in the country – and it too will soon become automated. In The Last Observers, the pair reflect on their simple yet joyful life where they find true happiness through symbiosis with nature.

Charlie Fowler Best Adventure Film - Mountain Queen: The Summits of Lhakpa Sherpa 
Lhakpa Sherpa’s life straddles two wildly disparate worlds. A dishwasher at a Whole Foods in Connecticut, she is also the first Nepali woman to climb Mount Everest and survive. Once forced to conceal her gender to pursue the sport she loves, Lhakpa and the current stages of her remarkable journey are chronicled in this film as she prepares for a tenth Everest summit, a new record for female mountaineers. In her low-altitude life in the United States, Lhakpa faces a gamut of challenges as an immigrant, a single mother of two teenage daughters and a survivor of spousal abuse. Throughout this inspiring and uplifting narrative, Lhakpa’s determination and indomitable spirit shine through. Hers is a true heroine’s story.

Student Choice Award - Between the Mountain and the Sky (Synopsis above under Audience Choice Feature) & One with the Whale (Synopsis below under James Balog Creative Vision Award)

Women in Film Award - Ashima 
Ashima is an intimate portrait of 13-year-old elite rock climber Ashima Shiraishi and her quest to stamp her name in the record book as the world’s youngest climber to climb a V14-graded boulder problem. Accompanying Ashima on her journey to South Africa’s Golden Shadow is Poppo, an eccentric, hermit-like, retired avant-garde dancer, who also happens to be her father. Emotional and rooted in character, Ashima is a love letter not only to climbing, but to immigrant parents and the realization of the American Dream.

Minds Moving Mountains Award - Public Defender
Heather Shaner, a feisty, blue-haired public defender in Washington, D.C., has spent 40 years representing people who can’t afford a lawyer. On Jan. 6, 2021, Shaner’s empathy hits a limit when a violent mob supporting outgoing President Donald Trump storms the Capitol to stop the peaceful transfer of power to President-elect Joe Biden. She wants nothing to do with the alleged criminals until she gets a call from The Federal Defender’s office asking her to represent some of the rioters. Forced to reconcile her fear and anger with her belief in the right to a fair trial, Shaner accepts a caseload of nonviolent offenders and is surprised when her disdain for the rioters eases. Using humor and comic relief, Public Defender takes on America’s epidemic of division and misinformation, showing how to restore trust and accountability one conversation at a time.

James Balog Creative Vision Award - One with the Whale
Teenager Chris Apassingok is one of the last subsistence hunters of his generation, performing an ancient practice of providing food for his community. When Apassingok becomes the youngest person ever to harpoon a whale, the village is ecstatic, and his mother posts photos of the hunt on social media to share with other Alaskan Native communities. To their horror, this vulnerable kid receives thousands of hate messages and death threats from an international army of environmental activists. Caught in the crosshairs of climate change, food security, social media, and centuries of racially motivated attacks from outsiders, the Apassingoks and their entire village are on the cusp of losing everything, unless they can find a way to strike a balance between existing as modern Americans and prehistoric hunter-gatherers.

Last, but definitely not least, the Guest Director medallion was presented to adventurer, author, ethnobotanist and National Geographic Explorer Wade Davis, who kicked off the official start to this year’s festival with the first installment of the Minds Moving Mountains Speaker Series on Friday afternoon, along with presentations and panels throughout the weekend.

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