Chasing Coral, City of Ghosts Win Big at Mountainfilm

Chasing Coral, City of Ghosts Win Big at Mountainfilm

Climate action and social justice triumph at 2017 Festival. Mountainfilm’s 2017 documentaries told of iconic seabirds, nonagenarian climbers, change-making labor activists, extraordinary Nepalese rites, and bold missions into interstellar space. But at the end of the day, it was stories of determined underwater photographers and citizen journalists in Syria that most captured the hearts of judges and audience members.


Larissa Rhodes (third from right), producer of the film “Chasing Coral,” accepts the 2017 Mountainfilm Audience Choice Award Monday at the festival’s closing picnic and awards ceremony in Town Park. “Chasing Coral” won several accolades for its portrayal of coral bleaching events. [Photo by Ben Eng/courtesy of Mountainfilm]

Jeff Orlowski’s “Chasing Coral, a doc which chronicles the efforts of a team of photographers and scientists to capture coral bleaching events in real time, took home both the Audience Choice and Student awards.

“City of Ghosts,” a film by Matthew Heinemann that portrays the incredible courage of citizen journalists in ISIS-controlled Raqqa, Syria, meanwhile, swept the Cinematography, Norman Vaughan, and Moving Mountains awards.

Total award money of $3,500 will be granted to the journalists’ group documented in the film, Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently.

“Our audience is always engaged in films that are both hard-hitting and inspiring,” festival director David Holbrooke said. “‘City of Ghosts’ and ‘Chasing Coral’ both capture that resilient human spirit and the need to work harder to build a better world, which is so much about what The New Normal (Mountainfilm’s 2017 theme) is about.”

Festival Director David Holbrooke at Mountainfilm’s Closing Picnic and Awards Ceremony Monday at Town Park. [Photo by Ben Eng/courtesy of Mountainfilm]

Mountainfilm’s other award winners ranged from a human rights activist to a musician.

The Charlie Fowler Award for best climbing film went to “The Hanging,” a short about a young Russian iconoclast who scales the buildings and towers of Moscow.

The Norman Vaughan Indomitable Spirit award was split between “City of Ghosts” and Alizé Carrére, a cultural anthropologist who has traveled the world researching climate adaptations.

The New Normal Award, created in 2017 to recognize the project that best embodies the festival’s climate change- related theme of approaching the problem in a positive way, went to musician and Ben Sollee of “Ditch the Van,” chronicling Sollee’s decision to embark on a concert tour entirely by bicycle.

Another new award, the Dolores Huerta Award, was given to its namesake — subject of the film “Dolores” — for her tireless commitment to labor and civil rights causes over the last 60 years.

And the Festival Director’s Award, elected by Holbooke, went to an unorthodox recipient: festival producer Stash Wislocki, who along with overseeing the theater and event operations of the large event, contributed several pieces of programming.

“When I looked closely at everything that Stash Wislocki did for the festival this year, it was a really obvious choice to give the Festival Director’s Award to him,” Holbrooke said. “After all, he directed a short film, produced a feature, exhibited artwork, edited an intro, and helped curate our wildly popular adrenaline show. Oh yeah — he also produced the festival, which was bigger than ever.”

Aside from its 120 films and scores of panel discussions, parties and events, Mountainfilm launched a few new initiatives in 2017.

One was Cine de las Montañas — free Spanish-language film programs aimed at Telluride’s Latino community. Mountainfilm worked with Kathleen Morgan and her ESL students to translate the films “Dolores” and “Charged: The Eduardo Garcia Story,” as well as liaisons in the community that helped with outreach. Mountainfilm was thrilled by the reception at the well-attended screenings.

More ambitiously, Mountainfilm launched The New Normal initiative, a deep look into climate change that called on people to pledge to take several actions in an effort to reduce carbon emissions. Mountainfilm is thrilled to report that along with several launch partners, 250 people have signed up, including many who have already purchased offsets, supported a new solar project, and signed up for SMPA’s Greenblocks program.

“Mountainfilm is overwhelmed by the response to the New Normal Campaign,” Mountainfilm executive director Sage Martin said. “We want to thank or local partners, the community of Telluride and our festival guests for making it a success. We look forward to continuing to be a platform to advance action and activism around climate change.”

About Mountainfilm: Established in 1979, Mountainfilm is dedicated to using film, art and ideas to inspire audiences to create a better world. Working at the nexus of filmmaking and action, its flagship program is the legendary Telluride Mountainfilm festival, a one-of-a-kind combination of films, conversations and inspiration. Mountainfilm also reaches audiences year-round through its worldwide tour and Mountainfilm for Students, an educational outreach initiative for youth.

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