Mountainfilm 2015: Festival Awards

Mountainfilm 2015: Festival Awards

Sing along with me:

“The party’s over. It’s time to call it a day…”

While it rained all Mountainfilm/Memorial weekend, director David Holbrooke and his team put together a gnar program, so the spirits of the crowd remained undampened – particularly those of the lucky winners, applauded by a wildly enthusiastic (if somewhat diminished due to cold, rain, and mud) crowd at the event’s closing picnic in Town Park.

Below, the list of 2015 Mountainfilm Festival Awards and comments by festival director David Holbrooke in a blog by festival program director Katie Klingsporn.



There were astonishing feats of climbing, incredible achievements of the human spirit and inspiring acts of activism. But in the end, it was an epic horseback trip by four friends and a handful of wild mustangs that stole the hearts of the 2015 Telluride Mountainfilm Festival audience.

Unbranded took home the 2015 Audience Choice Award. The film, directed by Phillip Baribeau and produced by Ben Masters, unfurls an incredible story of adventure and self-discovery while spotlighting the plight of wild horses in America.

I knew as soon I saw Unbranded that it was a likely Audience Award winner,” said Mountainfilm Festival Director David Holbrooke. “It’s such a big epic story and obvious crowd pleaser. Having Ben Masters and [film subject] Val Geissler here made it all the more so.”

Unbranded joins a roster of stunning documentaries that took home prizes at this year’s festival. Among the winners was the exceptional climbing feature Meru, which won the Charlie Fowler Award; the harrowing but gorgeous expedition film Down to Nothing, which took home the Cinematography Prize; and the Ebola Orphan Project, the nonprofit featured in the arresting short film Body Team 12, which walked away with the $3,000 Moving Mountains Prize.

The Moving Mountains Prize, a cash prize that goes to a nonprofit featured in a film, was given an unexpected boost by jury members Cheryl Strayed, Rebecca Martin, and Juan Martinez. The jury donated an extra $1,500 to go toward two runners up: the Ubumwe Community Center featured in I Am Able received $1,000, and Recycled Orchestra featured in Landfill Harmonic, received $500.

The recognition of such far-flung organizations (projects are located in Liberia, Rwanda, and Paraguay) proves that Mountainfilm’s spectrum is global, Holbrooke said.

“I was also particularly gratified to see Farzana Wahidy honored with the Norman Vaughan Indomitable Spirit Award,” Holbrooke said.

Wahidy, a pioneering female Afghan photojournalist, is one of the subjects of the film Frame by Frame, which took home this year’s Student Award.

Along with Wahidy, special guests to Mountainfilm included everyone from Colorado-based climbing star Tommy Caldwell to cartoon editor of The New Yorker Bob Mankoff, Austrian alpinist Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner, big mountain snowboarding star Jeremy Jones, and Rwandan amputee painter Frederick Ndabaramiye.

“Mountainfilm has such a broad perspective, and it’s so special to have all these visitors from around the world coming to Telluride and being embraced by Mountainfilm,” Holbrooke said.

All in all, he said, it was one for the books.

“I was pleased at how well we managed to put on a smooth-running festival, despite an increase in audience numbers and challenging weather,” Holbrooke said.

Winners, summed up:

Global Citizen Award 

“Racing Extinction”/Louie Psihoyos

Student Award

“Frame by Frame”

Norman Vaughan Indomitable Spirit Award

Farzana Wahidy


“Down to Nothing”

Charlie Fowler Award


Festival Director’s Award

Dean Potter

Audience Choice 


Moving Mountains Prize

“Body Team 12,” $3,000

“I Am Able,” $1,000

“Landfill Harmonic,” $500

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