For those who haven’t heard, BASE jumper Dean Potter did make history at the Mountainfilm ice cream social by jumping out of a plane and cruising over Telluride in a wingsuit. Shocking everyone in the ice cream line, Potter’s aerial performance ricocheted into a second surprise: On Sunday night, Festival Director David Holbrooke stepped on stage at the Sheridan Opera House to announce an impromptu documentary short of Dean’s jump, which a team of filmers and producers turned around in close to 24 hours. Amongst the crowd’s stoke, it’s those live, on-the-ground moments at Mountainfilm that exemplify an important piece of what this festival is all about: taking action. Here are just a few of the many gunning films from day three:
Emptying the Skies exposes the poaching of migratory songbirds throughout Europe. Long considered to be a culinary delicacy, songbirds are still sought on the black market despite present-day poaching laws. Close to 15 percent of the world’s birds are endangered and half of those are migratory, migration specialist Professor Dr. Peter Berthold shared in the film. Despite present-day poaching laws, a variety of inhumane tactics—including lime sticks, stone crush traps, and bow hunting—are still used to illicitly capture the birds. The film chronicles Committee Against Bird Slaughter (CABS) members travel to migration pinch-points to dismember traps and free birds that are still alive. However, dislodging the traps entails trespassing on private property, which is likewise illegal, and puts the activists in an extremely vulnerable position to violent poachers.
“The violence is already there, but it’s been invisible,” summarized journalist Jonathan Franzen in the film. “They are taking the violence and putting it on themselves.”
Seeds of Time spotlights issues of crop diversity and food security with agriculturist Cary Fowler as the central character. Crop cultivation and seed banks are the only two ways to preserve seeds, Fowler points, and many factors threaten seed extinction: pests, natural disasters, disease, and climate change. Former director of the Global Crop Diversity Trust, Fowler has dedicated his life to the preservation of seeds for close to 30 years and counting. In 2008, Fowler led the launch of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault—the world’s first global seed vault—which is located on the Norwegian island of Spitsbergen, 810 miles from the North Pole. Fowler’s motivation is paralleled by his own health challenges, a reoccurring cancer, which has helped him to realize that there’s no time to waste.
Alongside Fowler’s narrative, director Sandy McLeod weaves in the story of indigenous Peruvian farmers that have experienced the effects of climate change through the extinction of potato varieties. The decline has forced them to gradually move farming plots to higher elevations—soon, they will run out of land, and even more importantly they run the risk of losing the single most important food that ensures their survival.
In an effort to preserve more than 1,500 native varieties of potatoes in their fields, several communities partnered with the International Potato Center gene bank in Lima to create a potato park. In a mutual relationship, the gene bank provided the farmers with potato varieties that they’d lost, and the farmers record data on the potatoes’ growth to better understand the effects of climate change. What’s most important to these communities, though, is their core desire to pass down traditions that revolve around the potatoes to their children.
On the adventure front, Alex Honnold blew everyone away in El Sendero Luminoso, with what is most likely the most difficult free solo climb in history. In the mountain oasis of El Portrero Chico, Mexico, Alex spider-manned 2,500 feet up El Sendero Luminoso—which means, “the shining path”—to the summit of El Toro, on January 15, 2014. Before attempting the climb, Alex and Cedar Wright meticulously cleaned the rock face, which also gave Alex an opportunity to conceptualize the route. Then, Alex said, “I’m ready—I’m sick of hanging around on ropes,” and went for it. Easy right?
Free soloing El Sendero Luminoso may intimidate everyone else, in the world, but the determination and passion exemplified by all of these film’s athletes, activists, and conservationists is a universal inspiration—regardless of the ascent. It’s magnificent and palm-sweating stories like these that influence others to take action in their own lives and communities. Thanks Mountainfilm, for an incredibly impressive series of documentaries—we can’t wait for 2015.