TELLURIDE MOUNTAINFILM has established itself as a premiere festival for films highlighting nature’s beauty, environmental activism, and outdoor adventure. This year, the fest turns the focus on inspirational tales of the human experience.
“Mountainfilm is 35 years old, and this is our eighth year in Savannah,” explains Katherine Albert, Director of Mountainfilm in Savannah.
“It started as this adrenaline series and adventure-based film festival—a lot of skiing, biking, so forth—and over time, it’s morphed from being that solely to including more educational, inspiration, cultural exploration, the human experience, and social justice pieces, and a lot of environmental concerns. The ideas that it presents are, I think, important, and designed to inspire conversations among people working to make change in the world.”
The centerpiece of the 2016 festival is acclaimed feature-length film Life, Animated. Director Roger Ross Williams presents the story of Owen Suskind, a young man who was unable to speak as a child until his family found a one-of-a-kind way to communicate using Owen’s favorite media: Disney movies.
A moving look into autism, family, and identity that uses classic Disney animated sequences and verite scenes from Owen’s life, Life, Animated shows how timeless characters helped Owen communicate.
The film has won numerous awards, including Directing Award: U.S. Documentary at Sundance, Audience Award Winner at Full Frame, San Francisco Integrational Film Festival, Nantucket Film Festival, Berkshires Film Festival, and Telluride Mountainfilm, and was a part of the official selection for True/False, Tribeca Film Festival, Seattle Film Festival, and Montclair Film Festival.
Following the screening, Ron Suskind, Owen’s father and author of the book upon which the film is based, will tune in for a Q&A via Skype; audience members are encouraged to ask questions.
“It’s pretty amazing,” says Albert of the film. “The family understandably wanted to go to whatever length possible to sum up Owen’s communication pattern as he was slipping further into autism, so they used the power of animated film.”
Another film rooted in compassion and human connection is 1-800-GIVE-US-YOUR-KIDNEY. The 17-minute film introduces audiences to Harold Mintz, a blood donation advocate. One day, Mintz, considering his two perfectly healthy kidneys, asked his doctor, “If I don’t give my kidney to somebody this week, will somebody die waiting for it?”
Upon hearing “Yes,” Mintz decided to undergo surgery to help a total stranger.
“The kidney went to this woman he’d never met before, and it saved her life,” says Albert.
“Years later, he met her, and it was kind of a full-circle experience for him. Now, he’s also an advocate for living donation, and his message is that you can make a difference in the lives of others through your own life.”
Mintz will make a special appearance at the screening.
Mountainfilm boasts many talented guests, including Coffin Nachtmahr, star of Throw.
“He’s from inner-city Baltimore and is a world-class yo-yoer!” Albert shares.
“His message is, ‘You can do anything if you set your mind to it and figure out what you’re passionate about and go and get it and make something of your life: put down your smartphone, the video games, and go play.’”
It’s a message that will reach the 4,000 children from Savannah Chatham County Public Schools attending Mountainfilm. Education is a key element of the festival, and the SCCPS collaboration includes customized educational materials in support of the films to engage young viewers.
“We have prepackaged lesson plans that we send to the administration and Board of Education, and they disseminate these lesson plans to teachers to use in classrooms,” Albert explains.
“When kids come and watch the film, they are able to interact. We have number of special guests who will be coming in to be at the screenings, and because of the prescreening materials, students are really able to participate in the discussion with the people they’ve been reading about and have just seen on-screen. That has a lot meaning on a number of students—and we have post-screening lesson plans, too,” she says.
Mountainfilm’s outreach also extends to the military, with military-centered film screenings running at Hunter Army Airfield and Fort Stewart.
Some films and their guests offer community activity outside of Trustees Theater. Mile 19 highlights postal worker Johnnie Jameson, a Legacy Runner in the Los Angeles marathon. Wearing his signature Payless shoes, Jameson has run the marathon backward, dribbled a basketball for the entirety of the race, and even run with a boom box.
A Vietnam veteran, Jameson found that running deeply helped with his PTSD. On Saturday, he’ll lead a walk, beginning at Kennedy Pharmacy on Broughton Street and ending at the south end of Forsyth Park, in honor of veterans and open to anyone who wants to participate.
Walkers will be joined by Southeastern guide dogs who are trained companions to soldiers returning home from war.
If traveling on two wheels is more your speed, link up with the Savannah Bicycle Campaign on Saturday, January 21 at 11 a.m. for a bike ride following the same route as Jameson’s walk.
No matter what your Mountainfilm style is, Albert and the rest of the crew encourage Savannahians to get involved, get active, and learn about our world.
“We wanted to bring a lot of films with energy, and we wanted to bring a lot of films that are inspirational,” Albert states. “And I think we’ve really done that.”