Memorial Day weekend has a special meaning for the town of Telluride, Colorado. It marks the annual convening of adventurers, filmmakers, humanitarians, scientists and poets to celebrate mountain culture through film. And this year was extra special — Mountainfilm turned 40.
In 1979, legends of the outdoor community like Yvon Chouinard, Royal Robbins and David Breashears screened a dozen films in the Sheridan Opera House. Fast forward to 2018 with dozens of venues, Mountainfilm is an elite festival and revered for its contribution to adventure film and mountain culture.
We spent over 22 hours with our butts in theaters watching films that inspired, provoked and progressed social thought and innovation. Here are a few favorites:
Return to Mt. Kennedy
In 1955, Jim Whittaker was the premier American Mountaineer of his time and widely known for being the first American to summit Everest. Due to his success with such a prestigious expedition, Jim was tapped to lead an important climb up an unclimbed peak in the Yukon. The peak, Mt. Kennedy, was a gift from Canada to the United States following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
On the expedition, there was one very large variable and it was human. It was President Kennedy’s brother, Senator Bobby Kennedy who wanted to summit his brother’s namesake mountain. Having never climbed before, Jim was now tasked with maintaining the safety and ensuring the success of Senator Kennedy’s brief but successful mountaineering career.
50 years later, the film follows Whittaker’s son Bobby, a former punk-rocker turned conservationist, in his effort to reconnect with his father by following in his footsteps – literally. Bobby (named after — you guessed it — Bobby Kennedy) along with his own brother Leif, and Sen. Kennedy’s son Chris Kennedy, replicate the historic first ascent of Mt. Kennedy.
Following the film, both Bobby and Jim Whittaker with filmmaker Eric Becker, treated the audience to a spirited Q&A in which Jim left the audience with a resounding final message, ‘Leave no child left behind, but also, let’s leave no child inside’.
The Dawn Wall
On Friday evening, hundreds of patrons flocked to Telluride’s Palm theater to watch the long-awaited film The Dawn Wall. The film follows the first ascent of the films namesake route The Dawn Wall. For Colorado native and climber, Tommy Caldwell, this self-supported free climb was a lifetime accomplishment. Many including climbing pioneer John Long thought the project would be impossible, and frankly, we don’t blame him.
During the film, Caldwell’s climbing partner Kevin Jorgeson had the world’s eyes on him during Pitch 15 a 5.14c. The duo spent days trying to successfully traverse a piece of stone that was devoid of any features that would resemble a hold.
The film, from Red Bull Media House and Sender Films, chronicles the history of Tommy Caldwell’s climbing career, including a quick ascent to top-tier competition, a life-altering hostage situation, and a divorce that shook him to his core. With all these hardships in his rearview mirror, he threw himself wholly into the climb.
Loved By All: The Story of Apa Sherpa
Every spring, hundreds of people gather at the base of the tallest mountain on earth to test their resiliency. For those privileged enough to undertake this momentous challenge, they are usually assisted by sherpas, a high altitude porter. These local guides brunt the majority of carrying the load and accept far more risk than they are paid for. The career is revered by the youth of Nepal but is exceptionally dangerous and taxing.
This film, Loved By All: The Story of Apa Sherpa from Sherpas Cinema profiles Apa Sherpa who has summited Everest twenty-five times and holds the record for most ascents. However, after his 21st time, he retired knowing how high the risks were. He’s since built a foundation in which he’s offering a new path for the youth of his village, one that involves an education and opportunity.