For its fifth year, Mountainfilm returns to New York City, November 21 to 23, for a weekend of documentaries about adventure, environment, and culture. But mainly adventure. The Opening Night film will be Matt Livadary’s Queens & Cowboys: A Straight Year on the Gay Rodeo, which covers a year in the lives of extraordinary cowboys and cowgirls as they follow their dreams, no matter how wild or daunting. And the series will close with Valley Uprising, narrated by Peter Sarsgaard. The highly anticipated doc about the epic history of climbing in Yosemite National Park and the countercultural roots of outdoor sports features digitally animated archival photography, spectacular climbing footage, and interviews with Yosemite greats—from pioneers like Yvon Chouinard, Royal Robbins, Lynn Hill, and John Long to cutting-edge modern athletes like Dean Potter and Alex Honnold.
This year’s lineup also includes three shorts programs: Crossing Boundaries, a trio of films featuring protagonists who cross different kinds of boundaries, real or imagined; Risk & Reward, a series of shorts, culminating in the featurette Walled In, about people who live on the line between risk and reward; and Water, three films broadly about finding joy in and above water.
All screenings will take place at the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center, 144 West 65th Street
Emptying the Skies
Douglas & Roger Kass, USA, 2014, HDCAM, 78m
Just as The Cove (Mountainfilm 2009) exposed the tragic slaughtering of the dolphins of Taiji, Emptying the Skies serves European migratory songbirds with a similar purpose. Fighting the good fight against the poachers who slaughter the birds to sell to chefs are fearless activists and the novelist Jonathan Franzen, a devoted amateur ornithologist whose story in The New Yorker inspired this documentary.
Fear of Flying
Conor Finnegan, Ireland, 2012, digital projection, 9m
In this lovely animated short, a bird tries to overcome his greatest fear.
Saturday, November 22, 6:00pm (Emptying the Skies director Roger Kass in person)
The Grand Rescue
William A. Kerig, Meredith Lavitt & Jenny Wilson, USA, 2013, HDCAM, 53m
Mountain rescue is always a risky proposition, so those who are attracted to the job tend to be strapping, young, and full of verve (and nerve). This was definitely the case in 1967, when a group of seven national park rangers in the Grand Tetons risked their lives to save an injured climber. On August 22, Gaylord Campbell was climbing the north face of the Grand Teton with a friend when a boulder broke free and showered them with rocks, leaving Campbell with compound fractures. During the rescue attempt, which took three days, Campbell was critical of the methods and decisions made by his saviors every turn of the way. The Grand Rescue tells this legendary story for the first time on film.
Sufferfest 2: Desert Alpine
Cedar Wright, USA, 2014, digital projection, 27m
When Alex Honnold and Cedar Wright undertook the adventure they called “Sufferfest” in the summer of 2013, they meant for the name to be tongue-in-cheek. The goal of the trip was to string together climbing mountain peaks in California by road biking, and indeed proved to be full of suffering. But also fun. But mostly suffering. They swore they would never attempt anything like it again. Yet, in Sufferfest 2: Desert Alpine, they once again endeavor to bike and climb, this time in the desert Southwest. Climbing 45 desert towers, using hybrid road/mountain bikes as their only transportation, Honnold and Wright set out for another adventure worthy of the name.
Saturday, November 22, 8:30pm (The Grand Rescue director Meredith Lavitt in person)
Queens & Cowboys: A Straight Year on the Gay Rodeo
Matt Livadary, USA, 2014, DCP, 93m
During his first—and last—college rodeo practice, Chris Sherman’s collegiate roping team discovered his sexual orientation. After that, he couldn’t find a roping partner, lost his scholarship, and dropped out of school. Sherman’s story is just one of many. Some gay cowboys have endured intolerance that has led to suicide attempts. At the International Gay Rodeo Association, however, the old West meets the new, providing everyone an opportunity to compete in the challenging sport and do so in a supportive, courageous community. Queens & Cowboys: A Straight Year on the Gay Rodeo follows a year in the lives of extraordinary cowboys and cowgirls as they follow their dreams, no matter how wild or daunting.
Friday, November 21, 6:00pm (Director Matt Livadary and producer Erin Krozek in person)
Peter Mortimer & Nick Rosen, USA, 2014, digital projection, 95m
Valley Uprising is the much-anticipated documentary from Sender Films about the epic history of climbing in Yosemite National Park and the countercultural roots of outdoor sports. Narrated by Peter Sarsgaard, this film features digitally animated archival photography, spectacular climbing footage, and interviews with Yosemite greats—from pioneers like Yvon Chouinard, Royal Robbins, Lynn Hill, and John Long to cutting-edge modern athletes like Dean Potter and Alex Honnold.Valley Uprising tells the story of the bold men and women who broke with convention and redefined the limits of human possibility in America’s legendary national park.
Sunday, November 23, 8:00pm
Crossing Boundaries Shorts
Whether a boundary is real or imagined, crossing over is usually left to mavericks, visionaries, and the exceptionally brave. The lead characters in these three documentaries all cross different kinds of boundaries. In 14.c, a young black athlete excels in a sport that normally has little diversity: climbing. Duke from Duke and the Buffalo is a rancher who has made an alliance with a large conservation group. Frank Moore envisioned returning to fly-fish in France 60 years after landing on the beaches of Normandy, and his dream became a reality in Mending the Line.
Sunday, November 23, 3:30pm (14.c subjects Kai & Connie Lightner + Duke and the Buffalo director Alfredo Alcantara in person)
George Knowles, USA, 2014, digital projection, 9m
Climbers all have a story about how they got started, and 14-year-old Kai Lightner’s introduction is particularly striking—and not only because he’s a brilliant climber. Much like Tiger Woods in golf or the Williams sisters in tennis, he could change the demographics of climbing. This film isn’t about race so much as it’s about family. His single mother has become his regular belay partner, one who also makes sure he maintains straight A’s in school. It’s clear that she wants what’s best for her son, and if that means spending hours with her hands on a belay device and her neck craned upward, so be it.
Duke and the Buffalo
Alfredo Alcantara & Josh Chertoff, USA, 2013, digital projection, 16m
Duke is a cowboy. The buffalo are part of the largest conservation herd of bison in the United States. Every year, Duke organizes a roundup of theses buffalo to inspect the health of the herd and yield income to sustain the Nature Conservancy–owned ranch where the buffalo roam. It turns out that bison aren’t as easily herded as cattle, and each year the roundup tests a lot of cowboy mettle.
Mending the Line
Steve Engman & John Waller, USA, 2014, digital projection, 48m
In 1944, 20-year-old Frank Moore landed on the beaches of Normandy. Crossing through the occupied French countryside, the young soldier daydreamed about coming back in peacetime to fish the bucolic streams. After the war, he returned to the States, married, started a family, and built a life centered around fly-fishing—but he never made it back to those streams in France. Until 2014. Now 90 but with the energy of a far younger man, Moore completes his dream with his wife and son by his side. This extraordinary story of a dream deferred, and ultimately fulfilled, proves that the scars of the past can be healed. Mending the Line was a 2013 Mountainfilm Commitment Grant recipient.
Risk & Reward Shorts
All great adventures potentially have an equally great price. For those who make adventure sports a career, the rewards can be great as well. The protagonists in this group of short films, culminating in the featurette Walled In, live on the line between risk and reward.
Friday, November 21, 8:30pm (Off-Width Outlaw subject Pamela Shanti Pack + Likebomb Skiing director Erik Henriksson in person)
El Sendero Luminoso
Renan Ozturk, USA, 2014, digital projection, 7m
World-renowned free solo climber Alex Honnold went to Mexico in January with the talented Camp4 film crew in hopes of capturing what many regard as the most difficult ropeless climb ever attempted.
Brecht Vanhof, USA, 2013, digital projection, 4m
There’s a highly anticipated beast of a winter wave in Newport Beach, California, that rolls in heavy and attracts hordes of brave souls who attempt to drop into its steep face.
Brett Schreckengost, USA, 2014, digital projection, 3m
The San Joaquin Couloir is one of Telluride’s most iconic backcountry lines. Greg Hope is one of the town’s best-known rippers. In 64 mph, the two meet for one slough-dodging, high-velocity descent.
Celin Cerbo, USA, 2013, digital projection, 6m
In a sport that is not for the weak or easily discouraged, Pamela Shanti Pack excels. One of the most accomplished off-width climbers in the world, Pack seeks out North America’s most challenging inverted and vertical cracks with what she describes as “masochistic fervor.” Off-Width Outlaw follows her quest to establish new routes in the desert climbing mecca of Indian Creek in southeastern Utah.
The Balloon Highline
Sébastien Montaz-Rosset, France, 2014, digital projection, 5m
Slacklining no longer seems to need the expanse of trees, crevasses, or other earthbound objects––only some kind helium and a cool buzz.
Mike Douglas, Canada, 2013, digital projection, 10m
With a graceful style and aggressive lines, Wendy Fisher ruled the women’s big mountain freeskiing scene from 1996 to 2004. She skied Alaskan spines, hucked cliffs, starred in movie segments, won many championships, kept up with male cohorts, and inspired a new generation of female badasses. Then she had kids and traded in the life of a professional skier for being a mom to two red-headed boys. This film checks in with Fisher, who gets the opportunity to see if she’s still got it on the steeps of B.C. and Chile.
Ben Stookesberry, USA, 2013, digital projection, 35m
Ostensibly, Walled In is the story of a first descent of the rowdy Marble Fork of the Kaweah River in Sequoia National Park by kayakers Ben Stookesbury and Chris Korbulic, but this film poses bigger questions than whether the pair can send a river that flows from above 12,000 feet in elevation to near sea level in less than 30 miles. It asks why they choose to engage in a sport that carries the threat of death, which they witnessed when their partner Hendri Coetzee was eaten by a crocodile in the Congo in 2010 (Kadoma, Mountainfilm 2011).
Erik Henriksson, Sweden, 2014, digital projection, 5m
Lacking snow, but clearly not courage or poise, Johan Jonsson skis lines that any sane person would avoid.
They say whiskey is for drinking, water is for fighting, but we would respectfully add that water is also for playing. Who Owns Water highlights the conflicts that can arise when water becomes scarce, but all three films in this program are broadly about finding joy in and above water.
Sunday, November 23, 5:45pm (Who Owns the Water directors David Hanson, Michael Hanson & Andrew Kornylak in person)
John John Florence & Blake Vincent Kueny, USA, 2013, digital projection, 5m
Surfer John John Florence continues to reinvent surfing with his extremely powerful, almost inhuman ability to push the boundaries on a wave.
The Fortune Wild
Ben Gulliver, Canada, 2014, digital projection, 22m
If Wes Anderson were inspired to make a surf film, it might look like The Fortune Wild. Director Ben Gulliver creates a witty and lighthearted film about a beautiful wild area—Haida Gwaii, a chain of wave-swept, lushly forested islands off the mainland of British Columbia. Surfing, camping, and foraging for food on the unspoiled beaches, three surfers step away from the modern world and into a quieter (and quirkier) existence that is both more attuned and self-sufficient.
Who Owns Water
David Hanson, Michael Hanson & Andrew Kornylak, USA, 2014, digital projection, 48m
Water wars in the American Southwest desert have always been heated, where water is scarce and droughts are frequent, but the same quarrels are unthinkable in lusher areas of the country. However, that is changing as Georgia, Alabama, and Florida are locked in a battle over water sourced from their once-bountiful rivers. Two young brothers decide to paddle the three rivers in the Apalachicola–Chattahoochee–Flint River Basin to tell the story of a system that still flows despite being threatened from all sides. Who Owns Water received a Mountainfilm Commitment Grant in 2013.