WHEN IT COMES to the cultural quality of life in the greater Savannah area, Leslie Carey’s job is an important one.
As director of the non-profit organization known as Mountainfilm on Tour Savannah, she oversees the annual downtown film festival which bears that same name, as well as helps to plan a handful of additional film-oriented events which fall under the organization’s umbrella.
These are highly anticipated and professionally executed happenings which bring enjoyment and enlightenment to a broad swath of locals and visitors alike.
However, after more than a decade of high-profile annual festivals, Carey says she is routinely reminded that tons of people in and around Savannah are completely unaware of the efforts that she and her compatriots put towards bringing top-quality documentary films to our city.
“It’s funny,” she says with a chuckle. “While it’s gotten a lot better in recent years, I still run into people who have never heard of Mountainfilm. When I explain to them what we do, most of them ask, ‘Why is a film festival about mountains even a thing here in Savannah?’ So, we’re still educating people throughout the area about what we do and why we do it.”
The “what they do” part is easy: Mountainfilm on Tour Savannah is an authorized, locally-run branch of the esteemed Telluride Mountainfilm Festival, an impressive and successful annual film fest which tales place every year in Telluride, Co., a stunningly beautiful town of barely 2,500 people that’s situated almost 9,000 feet above sea level, a former gold mining community that is now renowned as a snow skiing destination. Each Memorial Day weekend since 1979, this picturesque town has served as the location of the Mountainfilm Festival, which presents many of the newest and finest documentary short subjects and feature-length films from around the world.
The festival’s focus is on films which offer compelling, thought-provoking portraits of our environment, culture and issues of political and social justice – while also routinely using breathtaking filmed escapades by daring mountain climbers as something of a visual metaphor for mankind’s delicate, life-or-death dance of reality with its natural surroundings.
As for why they do it? The goal is to educate, inspire and motivate audiences, through the power of the projected image.
“What we want to do with Mountainfilm is to start conversations,” explains Carey. And by that, she means conversations about how we —as stewards of the earth and all its inhabitants— can better treat the ecology, the wildlife and our fellow human beings, for the good of all concerned. To that end, in 2000, the Colorado-based organization began to license and distribute scores of the award-winning films from each of its annual festivals, allowing local branches across the globe (such as the one started in Savannah a dozen years ago) to have access to this ever-growing library of documentaries.”
In this way, these amazing movies, most of which are created free from the artistically limiting confines of a commercially-driven ethos, can slowly make their way from community to community and from continent to continent, ultimately being seen by hundreds of thousands of people of all ages -- most of whom likely might never have even heard of their existence were it not for the dogged efforts of Carey and her peers.
On Nov. 7, Mountainfilm on Tour Savannah welcomes the public to its sixth annual Veterans Day screening. These special presentations were initially held at the Mighty 8th Air Force Museum in Pooler, but several years ago shifted to the industrial-chic environs of downtown’s Service Brewing Company facility on Indian St. near the Fahm St. Post Office.
Service, home to such popular locally-made craft beers as the Compass Rose and Battle Wagon IPAs, kindly allows the organization to utilize its spacious factory and warehouse, which they transform into a theatrical setting for one-night-only.
“Service’s owners Kevin and Meredith have been great supporters of Mountainfilm in the past, and using their brewery for these Veterans Day events came about organically, as part of that relationship, explains Carey. “They are both veterans themselves, so we thought, ‘why didn’t we think of this sooner?’
“Their back area is perfect for showing films. It’s as though it was made for us. Starting at 5:30 p.m., we’ll have a ‘social hour’ with drinks in the brewery’s bar space. Then we move into the back for the screening at 6:30, and afterwards there will be a reception featuring food from sponsors such as Vinnie Van Go Go’s pizzeria, Kayak Kafe and the Savannah Bee Company.”
This year’s program includes two recently-released, acclaimed films. First up is the short subject “Grizzly Country,” followed by the feature “The River and the Wall.” The short, says Carey, is specifically tied to veterans, in that it deals with Doug Peacock, who Carey describes as “a Green Beret medic in the Vietnam War.”
As Carey explains: “When Doug headed into battle, he took a map of Wyoming and a map of Montana to remind himself that he always wanted to visit those states and to do so if he made it out of the war alive. He did so, and he wound up staying for decades. Initially, it was just because he needed the solitude to heal himself, but while he was there he discovered the grizzlies needed someone to protect their habitat, and now he has spent the better part of his life doing just that.”
“The River and the Wall,” on the other hand, is only indirectly related to veterans’ issues, in that it documents five friends’ immersive, 1,200-mile journey on horses, mountain bikes and canoes from El Paso, Tx. to the Gulf of Mexico.
The notion was to document the borderlands and learn as much a possible about the likely impacts that constructing a border wall in that area would have on the natural environment in that area.
“The wild places in this country are special places that are worth protecting,” says Carey. “So, when our veterans are out fighting for this country, in part they are fighting to save and preserve those wild places. We’re obviously not taking a position one way or another on the argument over whether or not there should be a physical wall on the Mexican border. But there is a valid conversation to be had about what such a wall would do to the nearby ecology and wildlife. That’s another way to look at the whole situation.
“When people see this film they will be amazed at just how beautiful it is down there. Our founder Zelda Tenebaum and I were talking about this movie when we both first saw it and we agreed it is so beautiful that it could have been a silent film.”
Carey notes that roughly a third of their Veterans Day audiences are usually veterans themselves, who receive free admission with military ID. She also notes that both of the films are suitable and inspirational for mature children and encourages parents to bring their whole families.
“This is a real community event,” she enthuses. “As are all of our Mountainfilm on Tour shows. You see a whole lot of different people you might not ever see otherwise in one setting. You can’t say that about a lot of events in and around Savannah, and that makes us happy.”