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MountainFilm, the Telluride-based film festival, came to Golden on Friday night. The event was a fundraiser for the Alpine Rescue Team, a volunteer rescue group serving some of the nearby counties.

Reversing the standard order of films, the event opened with the feature title, The Beckoning Silence. I’d already seen this a week ago at the Alpinist Film Festival and already have posted my thoughts on this film. A second viewing didn’t change my option that this is a great mountaineering documentary, but Joe Simpson should have stayed off the mountain in the film.

After the intermission I got skunked by the raffle, but got to view the following films:

Play Gravity 10 minutes – Beautiful shots of some amazing flying with a parasail (?). However, like too many films on the outdoor festival circuit, it contains little in the way of character or plot and feels like an extended music video. (Hint: Interviews don’t count as character development without thought provoking questions.)

End of the Affair 3 minutes – Produced as part of one of those 24-, or 48-hour speed film making competitions, End of the Affair was a winner for taking an off-kilter look at bouldering and relationships. The running voice-over belongs to someone or something unexpected as revealed at the end of this short film.

The Last Frontier: Conservation and Exploration 16 minutes – Just banging exploratory kayaking and conservation issues together does not produce a good film. Try to see Oil and Water for an example of how these topics could have come together in a great film. I was lucky to see Oil and Water at Films for Fourteeners.

Roam – 15 minutes. The best film of the night, along with The Beckoning Silence. Roam built up a world of amazing feats that seems to have been shot on our planet, but certainly feel other worldly. Two wildly different environments produced the best segments: urban tricks in Europe and the contorted courses built in old-growth North Pacific woods. Only misstep: mountain biking helmets do not look inspiring in silhouette. Roam avoiding even trying to introduce the bikers as personalities which suggests two possibilities for outdoor film greatness: ignore the people and focus on creative film making ala Roam, or find a really good story like The Beckoning Silence.

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Friday night the Backcountry Film Festival had a stop at Golden’s American Mountaineering Center. I stopped by early and chatted with some of the staff and volunteers for the Backcountry Snowsports Alliance – a group which fights for non-motorized areas for the backcountry recreationists. I noticed a lot of parallels with their policy battles and the Hoosier Hikers Council’s efforts in Indiana for hiking-only trails.

The first film was “Winter in the Woods” a 10 minute black and white film of mostly atmospheric shots taken by a couple who spent 3 winters living in a backcountry cabin. I spent most of the film wondering how the couple lived, how they afforded to take the winter off, whether they ever hiked out to civilization, etc. The lack of details detracted from the film and kept me from enjoying the scenery.

The second film, “Cross Country with the Snakes” had a more narrative structure. It followed a blues band on a western trip who would cross country ski during the day and play bars at night. The focus was one of the drummers who had attempted to qualify for the ’94 Olympics. He bought used skis for the other band members and their beginner antics were reminiscent of the Beatles movie “Help”.

At intermission there was a prize drawing (I won nothing) where a couple people had bought extra tickets and mostly monopolized the winnings.

“Alsek” followed a foursome doing a combined float, ski and glacier crossing trip in Alaska. After rafting down a river they portaged over a glacier that most parties used helicopters to avoid, then climbed a mountain and skied down. Beautiful scenery, fun group dynamics. Looked like a good time.

“Skiing in the Shadow of Ghengis Khan” was too short at 5 minutes. Featuring Chinese skiers in the Altai mountains with homemade wooden long skis we were mostly shown a few action shots. I wish the beginning shots of ski construction was expanded to explain how the skis were made and how long they’d been in use. Once again I felt a film could have been improved with more details and background information.

The night finished with the feature “Weather We Change” a 43 minute backcountry version of “An Inconvenient Truth”. Following a handful of Tahoe area skiers and their effort to reduce their greenhouse emissions and a low-snow year. Strangely, this film had the most “ski porn” of any shown tonight, but suffered from too many trite expressions of alternating environmental worry and optimism.

The Backcountry Film Festival is a project of the Winter Wildlands Alliance – a national group devoted to preserving winter wildlands for human-powered access. The content of the festival varies at each location and reading the film list before hand I’d been looking forward to seeing the film “Sublimation Experiment”.

More about the Backcountry Film Festival.

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