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After screening nearly 100 films in six days, the Flagstaff Mountain Film Festival has announced the winners of the 15th Anniversary edition. Voyagers Without Trace directed by Ian McCluskey was awarded the prize for Best Feature, and Throw directed by Darren Durlach and David Larson won the People’s Choice award.

15th Flagstaff Mountain Film Festival Award Winners

People’s Choice: Throw
Director(s): Darren Durlach, David Larson
The first installment of Invisible Thread, an ongoing Early Light Media passion project series, Throw tells the story of an outsider from East Baltimore, an area challenged by gang violence and poverty. Often misunderstood, Coffin Nachtmahr found acceptance among a subculture of “throwers” and it turns out, he’s a virtuoso. He now helps others find a creative and social outlet by sharing the very toy that inspired him.

The Invisible Thread series is fueled by our passion for telling people-driven stories and will be an ongoing project that explores human connectivity, life, death, and all the moments in between. We want it to be diverse, funny, serious, and informative.

Director’s Choice: Canyon Song
Director(s): Dana Romanoff and Amy Marquis
Within the sacred walls of Canyon de Chelly National Monument, two young sisters, Tonisha and Tonielle Draper, learn about their Navajo culture and history. Above the rim, the girls compete in “royalty” pageants by singing songs in Navajo. But throughout the region, Navajo culture is fading. Beginning in the 1890s, native children were ripped out of their homes and forced into boarding schools in an effort to assimilate Indian tribes into the “American way of life.” Today, elders have less cultural knowledge to pass down to youth, and fewer than half of the country’s Navajo children entering school know their native language. This makes the Drapers’ story especially compelling. While their lives reflect many of the familiar aspects of a modern American family, they keep close ties to the land and work hard to teach their children the Navajo Way. This film illustrates the sacredness of a people and a place, the effort to define identities in both modern and traditional worlds, and the movement to honor Navajo culture for generations to come—all while reminding viewers of the critical role national parks play in preserving our country’s greatest stories, cultures, and landscapes. This is the second film in the National Park Experience film series.

Tuckman Young Voice: To Scale: The Solar System
Director(s): Wylie Overstreet, Alex Gorosh
Every image of the solar system we ever encounter is not to scale: Nature’s real proportions will never fit within a textbook page or computer screen–they are simply too vast. The only way to see the real appearance of the solar system is to build a massive, physical scale model.

Voyagers Without Trace
Voyagers Without Trace

Best Feature: Voyagers Without Trace
Director(s): Ian McCluskey
With the help of a few friends, filmmakers Alex Gorosh and Wylie Overstreet did exactly that. Using the dry lakebed of Black Rock Desert in Nevada and an earth the size of the marble, they constructed the first complete model of the solar system, measuring over seven miles wide.

Do you know those stories where a kid finds a hidden treasure map in an attic or a lost letter in an old book? Growing up, I always dreamed someday I’d find a mysterious clue that set me on an adventure.

In the remote southwest corner of Wyoming, I came across a curious historic marker. On the sign was a faded photograph: two handsome men and a fetching blonde. They didn’t look like the rugged mountain men or explorers of the American West that I’d seen before on historic signs. Instead, they seemed like they could have been my friends. The sign hinted at an incredible voyage.

In the summer of 1938, newlyweds Genevieve and Bernard de Colmont and their friend, Antoine de Seynes, set off from France on the biggest adventure of their lives. They had a bold, perhaps even foolhardy plan: be the first to take kayaks down the mighty Green and Colorado rivers. They launched from Green River, Wyoming, and emerged 900 miles and two months later in Lee’s Ferry, Arizona, with their travels vividly documented on 16 millimeter color film—a year before Hollywood’s first color movie.

And Genevieve, just age 21, would become the first woman to paddle her own boat on these rivers. A vanguard of recreational adventurers, the French Trio’s journey offers a unique and previously unseen window into a transitional moment in America: the last chapter of the Wild West, and the first chapter of the Modern era.

What led an explorer, his new bride, and his best friend halfway around the world, on the eve of World War II? What ever happened to them? And what did these “Voyagers Without Trace” leave to be found? To go further on this search meant one unavoidable thing: I had to go down the river. There was just one problem: I didn’t know how to kayak! But that hadn’t stopped the French Trio; they weren’t professional kayakers, but just beginners. So I assembled my own trio, with acclaimed adventure athlete Paul Kuthe and his fiancée, Kate.

We set off down the dangerous whitewater to search for any remaining traces of this journey. What I found was more than I could have expected: the original color film documenting their 1938 trip, unseen photos, a diary… and even one of the original kayaks, held in a 16th century fortress in the peaks of the Pyrenees, with an unexpected connection to the French Resistance.

From my discoveries emerged a story more remarkable than I could have imagined, revealing the possibilities that free-spirited risk-taking offers to all.

Best Short: Dodo’s Delight
Director(s): Sean Villanueva-O’Driscoll, Josh Lowell, Nick Rosen, Peter Mortimer
Jump on board a madcap sailing adventure to the biggest rock walls in the Arctic Circle with a team of elite climbers as zany as they are talented. Sean Villanueva, Nico Favresse, Olivier Favresse and Ben Ditto have made cutting edge first ascents in remote mountain ranges around the world — climbing hard, making music and goofing off thousands of feet in the air. Now they embark on their greatest expedition yet, voyaging to the massive walls of Greenland and Baffin Island on the good ship Dodo’s Delight, skippered by the spry 79-year old Captain Bob Shepton. Amongst rough seas, falling rocks and freezing temperatures, this hilarious and badass gang of adventurers forge bold new routes and have the time of their lives.

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