Telluride's MountainFilm

  If the past is guide, the 22nd MountainFilm in Telluride this May will be more than the sum of its parts. The individual elements will be impressive - a day-long opening symposium on the Andes and miles of celluloid about nature, other cultures, and jocks playing on rocks, glaciers and rivers. But the power of MountainFilm is the ability of director Rick Silverman to play festival goers like the metal ball in a pinball machine.

Last year, for example, you could start off a day in the dark with a paean to a vanishing subsistence culture of Inuit people in the movie Vision Man by director William Long. Then the schedule might send you caroming across the street to Caveman's Return, in which a family of cave dwellers in the Philippines decides it can no longer take the socially stultifying and unhealthy (though certainly primitive and sustainable) life it has been leading. Having weighed modern vs. primitive life, off they head for the nearest urban center.

MountainFilm, with four venues, has material for all ages. A relatively large number of pre-teens hung on anthropologist Christy Turner's every blood-soaked word as he explained how he knows that cannibalism played an important role among that most idealized of early cultures: the Anasazi of Chaco Canyon (HCN, 10/25/99: Bones of Contention).

There are also enough adrenaline-soaked films, all edited for the MTV generation, to satisfy those who love that genre, and enough beauty to make even Telluride, with its soaring peaks and high valleys, look bland when you emerge, blinking, into the daylight. But MountainFilm never lets you settle in for a predictable experience. There's always at least the hint of irony, as in this description of one film from the 1999 guide:

"... traverses some of the most exquisite country of South America to find unthinkably exotic backdrops for unthinkably beautiful windsurfing."

My favorite irony was the 1999 guide's back-cover advertisement showing a mountain climber and the headline "Go light or go home." The sponsor was that symbol of industrial recreation lightness: a helicopter ski company - just you, your skis, and a multi-ton hornet.

A basic pass to the festival is $150. It runs over Memorial Day weekend, from May 26 to May 29. For a pass or information, call 970/728-4123; [email protected]; or

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