Editor’s note: This year marks Mountainfilm’s 35th festival and the event is stronger than ever. Those running the show feel Mountainfilm’s vital longevity is thanks to many people: volunteers, staff, audiences and, of course, filmmakers, artists, and guests. Some people who have taken the stage have helped shape Mountainfilm in Telluride. To celebrate their longtime involvement, Mountainfilm asked a few of them to express their feelings about the unique tribe and weekend. This blog is by photographer and filmmaker Jason Houston.

Jason talking at Tride Gallery of Fine Art during Mountainfilm's Gallery Walk

Jason talking at Tride Gallery of Fine Art during Mountainfilm’s Gallery Walk

My first experience with Mountainfilm in Telluride was as a featured artist on the Gallery Walk in 2009. For a decade, I‘d been photographing the good work of small farmers across the United States, and the exhibition had shown a few times around the country. My Telluride venue wasn’t a gallery but La Cocina de Luz, the local Mexican restaurant. I had no idea what to expect. Since I had scheduled a photo shoot in New York that same weekend, I was only able to come for the Gallery Walk event. Afterward, I had to drive to the Montrose airport for an early flight the next morning.

The opening receptions were unlike any art event I’d done before. Mountainfilm people were interested in the images, and not just as art. They were informed and engaged and understood how the conventions of art could be used to more effectively provoke conversations on the issues. I remember walking back to my car after the Gallery Walk had cleared out. I walked west down Colorado Avenue into a post-rain sunset, the streets clearing as people lined up for the first round of films. Appropriately, it felt like a movie scene — and I wanted to cry. I knew that leaving early — missing a Mountainfilm weekend — was a mistake.

At about the same time, my creative partner Hal Clifford and I were starting to produce short documentaries and forming our new company Take One Creative. Since then, we’ve premiered three short works at the festival: “Stone River” in 2010, “eel*water*rock* man” in 2011 and “Picture the Leviathan” in 2012 (a Mountainfilm Commitment Grant project).

I also exhibited another photography project, “People of the Forest,” in 2011, and this year we will premier our fourth (and shortest!) film, “Rock Wall Climbing.”

Not only do our personal and creative interests align with Mountainfilm’s mission to share social and environmental stories

Jason Houston

Jason Houston

that matter, but we’ve also been completely and inseparably informed by our experiences at the festival. We’re challenged to produce our best work by the respect we’ve developed for the Mountainfilm audience. We’re humbled and inspired by the other filmmakers and artists in attendance, and great collaborations have even come from random, casual conversations in coffee shop lines.

We’ve made a few films with Mountainfilm in mind. But whether our films screen at the festival or not, thinking about how we can combine artfulness, passion and quality to tell meaningful stories underlies everything we do. We’re flattered and honored every year that we are invited back. To be able to attend as an active participant — to share our work and see that of so many others we’ve come to know and respect — refuels me year after year. However I manage to get there, I won’t miss another Mountainfilm.

That’s for sure.

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