Telluride Mountainfilm: Be The Change We Need

IMGP0406 Sunday late afternoon, Telluride: A double rainbow appeared in the sky at the end of town, a colorful postscript to a hailstorm and soggy Memorial weekend. Perhaps the light show was also an auspicious sign. Perhaps we will succeed in facing down some of the many global challenges we are faced with today –  Mountainfilm's hope and its reason for being.

Mountainfilm is not just about mountains or films. The opening shot of Telluride's busy summer festival season has evolved into a hydra beast, its multiple heads looking back at its roots in mountains and mountaineering, at fixed points in the present – endangered cultures, eco-systems, species, and ideas – and into the future at the positive change the nonprofit exists to effect through lectures, breakfast talks, gallery walks, Mountainfilm on Tour, and yes, films.

Mountainfilm's directors, David Holbrooke and Peter Kenworthy, say their event is not just about talking. It is about doing. And not just doing, doing to effect positive change. In its maturity – Mountainfilm just turned 31 – they  focus a little less on adrenaline, and a little more on activism. The writing was on the wall from Day One: Speaker after speaker, film after film reminded us that the real work is out there in the field.

The Moving Mountains Symposium offered food for thought on the subject of food, why the system is broken and what we can do to fix it.

Tongue firmly planted in her cheek, Chef Ann Cooper, asked what was wrong with this picture: We don't bat an eye when we spend  $5 for a fancy lattes, but we allocate only about 80 – 90 cents per kid on the junk we feed them in school, and that oversight feeds into our national health crisis. We can make a difference simply by overhauling a dinosaur from the mid-1940s.

We can make a difference by saving our soil (Jerry Glover, The Land Institute), by reconsidering our attitude based on the facts about genetic engineering (Pamela Ronald, UC Davis), by practicing holistic ranching (Dave James, James Family Ranch), by supporting local and sustainable food producers everywhere in the world (Josh Viertel, Slow Food USA).

Bill McKibben's book, "Deep Economy" underlines Viertel's agenda, explaining why supporting local economies in general is essential, but McKibben was at Mountainfilm with a whole other agenda.

Getting on his soapbox about 20 years ago, this leading environmental thinker and activist became one of the first writers to explain the negative impact of climate change. (Check out his "The End of Nature.") Today, at the 11th hour, he is trying to do something about the problem. He is a founder of www.350.org, an international grassroots campaign – just like the ones Paul Hawken described in his book "Blessed Unrest"  – dedicated to building a movement to unite the world around solutions to the climate crisis. The focus of the organization is on the number 350, the level scientists have identified as the safe upper limit for CO2 in our atmosphere before the world goes nuts and heats up irrevocably. (The fact we have already exceeded the tipping point at 387 parts per million is graphically illustrated in photographer James Balog's Extreme Ice Survey and mountaineer/photographer David Breashears' most recent images of glacial meltdown, also Mountainfilm supporters and regular guests.)

McKibben asks us all to sign on for change.

We can help fix the world following the model of "The Yes Men," Andy Bichlbaum (in town for the weekend), Mike Bonanno and Kurt Engfer, using large-scale hoaxes to draw world attention to corporate creeps who have knee-capped countless innocents just to earn a buck.

We can help fix the world as Dr. Rick Hodes ("Making the Crooked Straight") believes, by helping one child at a time, or as 2009 judge Ben Skinner believes by rescuing a single victim from modern-day slavery, a shadow epidemic.

(Hodes was one of the winners of the $5,000 Moving Mountains Prize. The other, also receiving $5,000, was the Democratic Voice of Burma.)

The poster child for Mountainfilm 2009 was Pulizter Prize-winning New York Times columnist Nick Kristof, a man of ideals, ideas and action. As a reporter his regular MO is to rush in –  massacres, brothels, Darfur, the Congo – where others fear to tread. The documentary that tells his story, "The Reporter," shows a man with his hair on fire, who from time to time has had to cross the line between objective observer and activist to save a life, mindful about leaving as few fingerprints as possible, but fearlessly risking his reputation nevertheless. Kristof embodies Mountain's theme: "Celebrating Indomitable Spirits."

Mountainfilm also had a shadow guest: Barack Obama. Presenters everywhere invoked the name of our new president, suggesting he needs each of us to become the person with the pitchfork agitating for the kind of social change that leaves Congress no option but to cave in to universal demands.

Anthropologist Margaret Mead said it best: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has,”

Begin locally, slowly and in a small way by making the Mountainfilm Commitment to reduce your impact on the environment. (Check out Mountainfilm's website to see what your neighbor has done for change.) Or put your money where your heart is and send pennies or dollars to some of the non-profits in the spotlight this weekend, among them, Sea  Shepherd Society, Democratic Voice of Burma, South Central Farmers, JDC Medical Program, David Sheldrick's Wildlife Trust, Tibet Society, Oceanic Preservation Society, and per Ambassador Holbrooke, search online for ways to help refugees forced out of Pakistan's SWAT Valley. (Ask Mountainfilm for a longer list of participating NGOs and nonprofits.)

"You are either an activist or inactivist," (from "The Cove").

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