Mossville: When Great Trees Fall, directed by Alexander Glustrom, follows a man living alone at 3009 5th Avenue in what once was a community initially founded by free slaves intent on living in peace and love along the Louisiana Gulf of Mexico Coast. The last remaining resident of a once-proud African-American community, Stacey Ryan, has refused the state-run, South African global petrochemical conglomerate Sasol’s latest offer of $30,000 to vacate what is left of his pride and his family’s history.
The film opens with text titles from a Maya Angelou poem, “When Great Trees Fall,” transitioning to a narrative voice-over with footage of gravediggers digging a hole and fitting a coffin for an eternal resting place. The audience is informed of the seven initial families that started the historic Mossville community, at once a safe haven from the Civil War and a respite from the Jim Crow Laws of the Deep South.
Former Mossville resident, Erica Jackson Hartman is revealed holding a family photo telling of her family’s plight on Fisher Street, a once joyful and harmonious street in a neighborhood “where everyone knew everyone.” The community had been self-sustaining. Jackson-Hartman continued addressing the camera and reminisced of abundant fruit trees – until the chemical plants began coming in one after another peaking at an unfathomable fourteen facilities.
Mossville: When Great Trees Fall also reveals that one of the largest U.S. spills of ethylene dichloride (EDC) ever occurred when a leaking transfer pipeline leaked EDC into a nearby estuary. Despite the corporate leadership assuring the residents there was nothing to fear, the residents began dying from various cancers. Twenty-eight independent tests revealed the area had high levels of dioxin, a group of highly toxic chemical compounds harmful to immune systems, hormones, reproduction, human development, leading to cancer. Eventually, a lawsuit was settled for forty-seven million dollars.
A 2012 archival news piece shows the then Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal beaming announced a massive $16-20 billion dollar project from Sasol, a global energy conglomerate based in South Africa. A brief capture of a snide Sasol executive discussing the Louisiana Westlake project, “a gas to liquids cracker complex,” reveals the corporate intent of developing the site as another South African Secunda. Secunda is the biggest emitter of greenhouse (carbon dioxide) gases in the world. The emissions from Secunda exceed the amounts from a hundred individual countries.
The heart of Mossville: When Great Trees Fall captures Mr. Ryan’s bravery and indomitable spirit in direct cinema, with direct interviews and with brief footage of his hospitalizations due to health complications from the nearby plants. The city has shut off his power and sewer. A face mask-wearing Ryan is shown constructing a 6-8 foot straight- board fence as tandem and tri-axle dump trucks roll past kicking up contaminated dust in their wake.
In other footage, Ryan reveals inside his trailer that after EDC got into the drinking water, he lost both of his parents to cancer, as well as his forty-four-year-old aunt and a fifty-seven year-year-old uncle. Another uncle died young from liver failure. Sasol, one of the economic engines behind the racist, South African apartheid offered Ryan an initial voluntary buyout of $2000. Ryan is seeking enough money to raise his son in nearby Texas’s town of Helotes, known as the “best place to raise kids.”
As the film closes, Ryan is shown getting medical treatment. Text titles reveal the buyout monies Ryan eventually received has gone primarily to paying medical bills as he has been hospitalized a dozen times. And, he is still hoping to move to Helotes, Texas.
Mossville: When Great Trees Fall resonates deeply with Maya Angelou’s poem as the viewer becomes the witness to an egregious wrong perpetrated visibly upon a human being, a Brother of mankind, and invisibly upon the environment, the Mother of us all. Highly recommended documentary.
One of the most exceptional films I viewed during Mountainfilm was Us Kids, directed by Kim A Snyder, a filmmaker known for taking on emotionally-wrought films. Snyder also directed the Peabody award-winning, and most-watched documentary film of the last decade, Newtown, that provided a look into the lives of those most affected by the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. Us Kids documents some of the most prominent students, including Emma Gonzales, David Hogg, and Cameron Kasky in the months following the school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas (MSD) High School in Parkland, Fla. In case anyone has forgotten, on February 14, 2018, a nineteen-year-old former MSD student opened fire inside the school with a semi-automatic rifle killing seventeen students and wounding seventeen others without any apparent motive.
In opening Us Kids, Snyder utilizes some pivotal archival news footage of classmates Emma Gonzales and David Hogg. Gonzales, a senior survivor of the Parkland Marjory Stoneman Douglas School shooting, stands on the footsteps of the Broward County Courthouse delivering her 11-minute “We Call B.S.” speech at a gun control rally in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., while Hogg responds to a backlash from the right wing-media and nationally syndicated, conservative television host, Laura Ingraham’s mocking tweets. His response precipitated 27 sponsors dropping their ads from Ingraham’s show. Snyder also records Marjory Stoneman Douglas schoolmate Sam Fuentes sharing her difficulties in trusting others “when a kid I barely knew tried to kill me.”
Us Kids is a direct cinema-style, full-length feature documentary film that followed the classmates from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School as they launched a student-led political action committee, Never again MSD, advocating for tighter regulations to prevent gun violence and to not only help get out the vote in 2018 but to sway the vote in 2018. The group embarks on a nation-wide, bus tour seeking support for safe learning environments and for politicians to stop taking National Rifle Association (NRA) monies. Stops in cities strife with extreme examples of gun violence and/or a powerful presence such as St. Louis, El Paso, Dallas, Houston, Sioux City, Milwaukee, San Antonio, Las Vegas, and Orange County are made.
Snyder captures the toils and the rigors of campaigning for a just cause as Never Again MSD becomes fearful and afraid of being misunderstood. Attacks on social media became vicious. Furthermore, the students were antagonized and followed into their hotel by gun-toting members of the Utah Gun Exchange. In addition, the NRA counter protested sending nefarious characters in cowboy attire with red mirror-reflective sunglasses to agitate, barking at the young men and women of Never Again, MSD, telling them they are nothing more than pawns and questioning their purpose. The responses from the Stoneman-Douglas Never Again, MSD, survivors were deep, articulate, and heartfelt leaving the agitators dumbfounded and scratching their heads.
US Kids won the Jury Prize for Best Feature at the 2020 Mountainfilm Film Festival. In addition to being an award-winning documentary, US Kids is also a critical and seminal socio-political artifact on school shootings, political activism, and student-led PACs. Highly recommended.
My first Mountainfilm Film Festival also was the first virtual Mountainfilm! Exceptional documentary filmmaking about issues that matter. I count my lucky stars in crossing paths with Nora Bernard.
I recall our first meeting at the 2019 Telluride Film Festival Production Office. We exchanged the usual introductory pleasantries and Nora asked if I’d been to Mountainfilm. I had not and asked her what it was. Anyone who knows Nora when she’s working, pleasantries are one thing – small talk is another. Time passed and we stayed friends on Facebook and I noticed her post in early May of this year regarding Monutainfilm and the new Bivvy Pass. Up to then, I was feeling blue as festival after festival was being canceled. A hundred-plus on-demand films with mesmerizing introductory clips, additional symposiums, events, and special presentations for $75 over a ten-day period sounded pretty awesome and my friend Nora was part of the Programming Team!
I bought it and spent the next ten days watching the best outdoor, political, social, cultural, and environmental films that matter including Watson, Current Sea, By Hand, Personhood, Apart, Big Fur, the Adrenaline Shorts Program w/ Fire On The Mountain and the award-winning short Origins, Mossville: When Great Trees Fall, Second Sight, Snow Wolf, Five Years North, and The Path of the Anaconda.
My first selection fell under the Limited Screening category – truthfully, I monitored this section closely. Baato, a sharply written, sharply executed documentary by Lucas Millard and Kate Stryker, chronicles a family that collects medicinal herbs in the mountainous region of Nepal. Each year the family treks 300 km to a low-lying urban market to sell the herbs to keep the home afloat. Along the way, the family faces shakedowns, a new roadway being cut into the terrain, and a ramshackle bus ride. Baato proved to be a cultural feast with some enlightening perspectives. Highly recommended viewing.
My next selection, Public Trust also a Limited Screening selection, was a Robert Redford executively produced exploration of the United States public lands, utilizing recent news footage, present-day interviews with tribal leaders, historians, government whistleblowers, journalists, of the United States public lands. The public land’s sacredness to indigenous tribes, ranchers and outdoor enthusiasts is revealed as is the Trump Administration’s overt push to privatize the lands for their profits. Public Trust received the 2020 Audience Choice Award. A must-see!
Lost On Everest, a National Geographic film about an expeditionary team tracking one of the early British attempts to stand on top of the world was making its World Premiere at the 2020 Virtual Mountainfilm Festival. I was ready for a mind-boggling extreme mountaineering experience. And, by golly, that’s exactly what I got. “Rising up to a peak of 29,035 vertical feet, Mount Everest has long captivated the imagination of climbers from all parts of the world.
Lost on Everest documents an elite group of research climbers who undertake a mission to locate and retrieve a camera from Andrew “Sandy” Irvine, a twenty-two-year-old climbing partner of the legendary British mountaineer, George Mallory. The two disappeared in 1924 just 800 vertical feet from the top of Mount Everest. Mallory’s body was found in 1999, approximately seventy-five feet from his last known location. Irvine’s body and the camera he was carrying have not been found to this day and have long been speculated about.” (excerpt from Lost On Everest)
Just as I began setting in, I selected (yes, another Limited Screening film) Unsettled from Director Tom Shephard. Unsettled was screened with Eva Rendle’s short film, All That Remains – a sobering look at the undocumented workers in the Santa Rosa, Calif. area following the massive 2017 wildfire that devastated one of the world’s foremost wine-producing regions. All That Remains set the tone for what came next – a case manager’s reality as Unsettled tracked the transition of asylum seekers, Junior, Subhi, Cheyenne and Mari as they navigate new freedom realizing the streets of America are not paved with gold and learning to deal with their lives on life’s terms.
A Home Called Nebraska(Limited Screening) came next. Nebraska, a conservative state, provided many new homes for innocent victims of terrorism, civil war, rape, attempted murder, and persecution through the U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program. Unfortunately, the Trump administration’s policies have fueled a growing hatred of Muslims and refugees. 2019 saw the lowest number of refugees entering the US since the inception of the program in 1980. Notwithstanding, A Home Called Nebraska highlights a community welcoming newcomers, building bridges, and dispelling fear while combating the hatred of racist nationalism.
Presentation. Magical Realism Meets Future Fiction. This had me at hello. I was excited before the presentation even began. Charles Lindsay and Nicholas Paul Brysiewicz co-hosted this presentation. Charlie was zooming in from Kyoto, Japan, sharing his cultural perspectives on the intersection of consciousness and enlightenment. Brysiewicz shared his insights on decoupling time/person experience. Both seemed to agree on the premise of alternative time-spaces as sacred. Now that’s what I’m talking about.
One of the most exceptional films, US Kids, a direct cinema-style, full-length feature followed the classmates from Marjory Stoneman Douglas School in Parkland, Fla., as they launched a nation-wide, gun control crusade for a safe learning environment and to effect the 2018 elections. Stops in cities strife with gun violence and a National Rifle Association presence like St. Louis, El Paso, Dallas, Houston, Sioux City, Milwaukee, San Antonio, Las Vegas, and Orange County are made. Along the way, a bond and mutual respect developed among the peers.
They also experienced the rigors of campaigning for a just cause as they questioned the National Rifle Association’s lobbying efforts and the politicians who fill their coffers with dubious contributions. The NRA fights back sending nefarious characters in cowboy attire with red mirror-reflective sunglasses to agitate barking at the young men and women telling them they are pawns. The responses from the Stoneman-Douglas survivors were deep and heartfelt leaving the agitators dumbfounded and scratching their heads.
US Kids won the Jury Prize for Best Feature at the 2020 Mountainfilm Film Festival. Let’s not forget! On February 14, 2018, a nineteen-year-old former student opened fire inside the school with a semi-automatic rifle killing seventeen students and wounding seventeen others without any apparent motive. US Kids is not only a highly recommended film, but it is also a critical and seminal socio-political artifact.
Stay tuned for more as Mountainfilm is scheduled to return next year in Telluride, Colo., with run dates of May 28th – May 31st. Hope to see you there!
Public Trust Takes Home 2020 Audience Choice, Us Kids Wins Best Documentary Feature
It was a year of firsts for Mountainfilm: the first online dance party, the first not-so-social ice cream social, and the first time festival-goers, filmmakers, and staff were asked to forgo a 42-year-old tradition and adapt. The result was proof positive that the indomitable spirit of the Mountainfilm family is alive and well.
It turns out, over 9,500 attendees — the highest number in Mountainfilm history — tuned in to watch over 130 selected films and almost 20 presentations and live events. 20 And certain films rose to the top, capturing the hearts and imaginations of audiences.
Viewers cast their vote for 2020 Audience Choice Award-winner Public Trust, a film that sheds light on something that impacts every American — the threat to our public lands by extractive industries. The Best Documentary Feature Award went to Us Kids, a tale of transformation as highschoolers at Marjory Stoneman Douglas evolve into political activists.
“This film was by far the best of the show,” said a Best Documentary Feature jury member. “It took me on an emotional ride with those incredible kids. It had a strong point of view and ended with a grounded version of what hope looks like.”
The Women in Film Award — a new addition that’s graciously funded by Riccarda de Eccher and Bill Goldston — was given to Welcome Strangers, a Colorado project and Mountainfilm Commitment Grant Winner that highlights the work of Casa de Paz, a temporary home in Denver for families separated by immigrant detention. The Moving Mountains Award, which supports a filmmaker and the film’s associated nonprofit, went to the heavy hitter, Mossville: When Great Trees Fall and the organization, Louisiana Bucket Brigade. The emotionally driven film gave voice to one man’s struggle against an international petrochemical company set on pushing him out of his ancestral home by any means necessary.
The selection of 2020 films was enhanced by presentations from filmmakers like James Cameron, mountaineers like Arlene Blum, and environmentalists like Paul Watson like and 2020 Guest Director Louie Psihoyos.
“We were honored by everyone who took the time to share their work and their stories. While it was sad we couldn’t be together in person, which is really what Mountainfilm is all about, we were happy that because of this twist in the road, we became more accessible and reached new audiences,” said Beraza.
The year of Mountainfilm firsts is punctuated by the move from a 4-day festival to an extended 11-day run, meaning you have until midnight on Monday, May 25 to unlock programs and watch any 2020 award winners you might’ve missed.
I remember the day I rode with my friends, Wally Weilmuenster and Dan Nester, to go swimming at Bone’s Lake jamming to the Grateful Dead’s “Fire On The Mountain.” The world was ours in that moment and it seemed limitless. So naturally as I perused the Mountainfilm shorts programs, I made a mental note when I saw Fire On The Mountain, directed by Chris Benchetler and Tyler J. Hamlet, inside the Adrenaline shorts program. Being 11:30 PM, an adrenaline focused lineup with 12 offerings might not be an ideal choice for most of us. For me, however, it proved to be an optimal experience.
As I’m a meticulous note-taker, I was scribing when Fire On The Mountain hit my tv screen. I noted the coloration and then the unthinkable happened – a textual title revealed the film was set to the music of the Grateful Dead. I didn’t have the pleasure of seeing the Dead perform live. I’ve been tuning into Dead and Company shows every Saturday on Facebook via nugs.tv for the last ten weeks. And, I did have the good fortune to see Further at the Santa Barbara Bowl several years ago. I remember that night vividly as I sat in my seat looking around as it was my first SB Bowl experience. As I looked around, I noticed a figure that I’d been watching since I began playing organized basketball in the St. Louis Metro-East way back in 1973. It was none other than Bill Walton – the same Bill Walton who connected on 21 out of 22 field-goal attempts as a UCLA Bruin at the old St. Louis Arena during the 1973 NCAA Championship Men’s basketball game.
I know you’re wondering, “What does Bill Walton have to do with Fire On The Mountain?” I can tell you one thing for certain Father Time is not playing any tricks. I was listening to the film’s poetically rhythmic voice-over-narration while thoroughly enmeshed in the film’s visuals when I became aware of thought – “that narrator sounds a lot like Bill Walton.” Then, I became aware of another thought – “it’s just somebody that sounds like Bill Walton – but who in the world sounds like Bill Walton?” Walton not only provided an enlightening narration for Fire On The Mountain, but he also is credited in the film’s collaborative writing.
Fire On The Mountain, inspired by the improvisational jam music of the Grateful Dead, features seven of their songs including “Brown Eyed Woman,” “The Other One,” “New Speedway Boogie,” “Dark Star,” “Playing In The Band,” “Fire On The Mountain,” and “Ripple.” From Teton Gravity Research, a Jackson Hole, Wyoming-based action sports media company “committed to fueling progression through its films and website,”Fire On The Mountain incorporates a psychedelic dynamic with trippy visuals, non-diegetic Grateful Dead music, and an in-progress, spot-on creation of a Dead-like mural all in juxtaposition to and simultaneously in ethereal harmony with bold, expressive and acrobatic action sequences in the water and on the mountain. Furthermore, the cinematography, costuming, and the tone was magically Dead inspired.
As the film closed, I sat uplifted and somewhat mesmerized, with the film’s group of talented actors around a bonfire appreciating their world and the freedom to live and experience their form of truth in unspoken ways. The performers executed the action sequences to a T opening up and expanding the conscious realm of human potentialities. Part dreamscape and part action film, Fire On The Mountain illuminates rad surfing and snowboarding talents and weaves the light of the Dead and “all the feels” into an inescapable whole.
Inspired and ready for bed, I started the last short of the program, Wingsuiter Flies Through Narrow Hole. I watched a flying man free fall through some sort of netting. It repeated itself then cut to black. A one-minute short of a man blasting through time and space and through a metaphorical representation of a Native American dream catcher. Only in America. Only at Mountainfilm. Highly recommended.
Lost on Everest, a National Geographic film about an expeditionary team tracking one of the early British attempts to stand on top of the world, made its World Premiere at the 2020 Virtual Mountainfilm Festival, a documentary film festival showcasing nonfiction stories about environmental, cultural, climbing, political, and social justice issues.
Rising up to a peak of 29,035 vertical feet, Mount Everest has long captivated the imagination of climbers from all parts of the world. Lost on Everest documents an elite group of research climbers who undertake a mission to locate and retrieve a camera from Andrew “Sandy” Irvine, a twenty-two-year-old climbing partner of the legendary British mountaineer, George Mallory. The two disappeared in 1924 just 800 vertical feet from the top of Mount Everest. Mallory’s body was found in 1999, approximately seventy-five feet from his last known location. Irvine’s body and the camera he was carrying have not been found to this day and have long been speculated about.
Did Mallory and/or Irvine make it to the top of Everest? Or do Sir Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay keep the title of first confirmed climbers to the summit? Utilizing the latest geospatial imaging tools and first-hand accounts of climbers claiming to have seen a body that may or may not be Sandy Irvine, the team ascends Everest under an ordinary climbing permit. Spectacular photography and intimate footage of the team as they battle the conditions imposed on them by the altitude and constantly changing weather conditions enhance the film’s compelling narrative. Testimonials, present-day interviews, and narrative voice-overs keep the audience engaged and informed as archival footage of the early British expeditionary attempts to provide historical context and the impossibility of the feat.
Interestingly, the day before the team makes their ascent, a parade of approximately 200-300 climbers create a traffic jam atop Mount Everest waiting for their respective turns to reach the summit, is captured in spectacular fashion. The photograph went viral and put Everest into the global dialogue front and center once again – and not necessarily in a positive light. Undaunted the team completes its summit without a climber insight and one of the climbing season’s windows most perfect days. What happens next could change the history of climbing forever as the team makes its way downward in search of Sandy Irvine’s final resting place. And what started out as an extreme climbing, turns into a mystery begging for someone to solve.
Lost on Everest was directed by Renan Ozturk, a globally recognized climber, filmmaker, and artist known for his extreme, outdoor visual storytelling. Ozturk’s previous films include Denali’s Raven(Mountainfilm 2017), Life Coach, and Mothered by Mountains (both Mountainfilm 2018). Alongside Taylor Rees, he co-directed The Ghosts Above (both Mountainfilm 2020). In 2013 Ozturk was awarded the National Geographic Adventurer of the Year. Drew Pulley, a renowned seeker of documentary content for National Geographic, co-directed Lost on Everest.
The film’s final screening at Mountainfilm is scheduled for May 23rd, 7 PM, Mountain Daylight Time. With a fast run-time of sixty minutes and with an included short film, The Ghost Above, providing a behind-the-scenes look at the climb, Lost on Everest is a highly recommended film. Check it out, you’ll be glad you did!
Mountainfilm, a documentary film festival in Telluride, Colo., showcases “nonfiction stories about environmental, cultural, climbing, political, and social justice issues that matter.” The 2020 edition has gone virtual in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Mountainfilm offering its 2020 festival lineup through a secure online platform from May 15–25. The new Bivvy pass provides full access to over 100 films, a symposium, and additional presentations for $75. An option to purchase individual films, shorts programs, or presentations for $10 each is also available.
Until next time, I look forward to seeing you at the movies….
Having met my featured Mountainfest member, Nora Bernard, at the 46th Telluride Film Festival, my curiosity piqued upon reading her social media post on this year’s Mountainfilm, the Bivvy Pass, and her zeal in being part of this year’s Programming Team. Without missing a beat, I quickly visited Mountainfilm.org and counted my blessings. I viewed the Mountainfilm Intro by Stephen Burns. Stunning photography accented the clip leading me to check out this year’s Guest Director Louis Psihoyos sharing what makes Mountainfilm his “go-to” festival year after year.
My good fortune didn’t end there as Ms. Bernard accepted my proposal for a feature via a virtual Q & A. Please see below.
What do you do for the 2020 MountainFilm Festival?
I was an Associate Programmer for this year’s festival which consisted of reviewing film submissions and giving my recommendations to the Programming Team at Large.
Why did you choose to work for MountainFilm?
I have been working for the Telluride Film Festival for a number of years and quite a few of my colleagues have also worked for Mountainfilm. The Program Manager, Lucy Lerner, was a Senior Manager for TFF and I reached out to her with interest in being a screener for the 2019 festival.
How has your experience been?
It’s been such a thrill. I have to say, I’ve been impressed by a lot of the submissions I have watched. The documentaries screened at Mountainfilm run the gamut from outdoor adventure, climate change, anthropology, and social justice. 2019 was my first time attending and I got caught up in the overall commitment to the community. It’s been so motivating to watch the year-round staff translate that to an online platform in these current circumstances.
Why did you choose Programming?
Well with all the other festivals I’ve worked, I’ve always worked on the logistical side of things. Production, venue operations, ticketing, volunteers…you name it and I’ve probably done it. However, my eyes have been moving toward the creative side and I’m grateful to Mountainfilm for giving me the opportunity.
What other festivals/projects have you worked on?
I’ve also worked for the Sundance, SXSW, Tribeca, and Telluride Film Festivals and am a part of the FantasticFest features submission team. Each job, I’ve worked has taught me so much and has rolled over into the next. There are so many talented people that put together these events. For now, I’m quarantining in New York City and hoping for the chance to help make that magic again soon.
Mountainfilm, a documentary film festival in Telluride, Colo., showcases “nonfiction stories about environmental, cultural, climbing, political, and social justice issues that matter.” The 2020 edition has gone virtual in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Mountainfilm offering its 2020 festival lineup through a secure online platform from May 15–25. The new Bivvy pass provides full access to over 100 films, a symposium, and additional presentations for $75. An option to purchase individual films, shorts programs, or presentations for $10 each is also available. Check it out. You’ll be glad you did!
Until next time, I look forward to seeing you at the movies….
I imagined my second 2020 Mountainfilm Festival selection would be a Ken Burns-style documentary on our nation’s public lands. Director David Garrett Byars begins Public Trust, a Patagonia Films production, with a soft opening of luscious landscape photography accented by a voice-over narration of a man from Northern Alabama having relocated to a Western State pontificating on the joyous freedom of fishing and hunting in the vast open spaces in the West.
After the stunningly beautiful opening sequence, however, Public Trust, executively produced by Robert Redford, turned into a wild ride through the United States of America’s exploitation of pristine public lands with roguish, jackaloon demagogues sowing fear and distrust in any receptive audience at their disposal. Truth is damned as greed, hate-mongering, and sheer stupidity rear their disgusting, revolting, and reviling heads as the public is duped time and time again with misleading rhetoric from politicians and Trump Administration department heads. Alaskan public lands are salivatingly seen as gravy trains with stores of oil, gas, uranium, and copper as mining revenues traditionally have been dispersed to Alaskans with royalty checks. As one commentator noted, “it’s akin to a heroin addict getting a fix.”
Utilizing recent news footage, present-day interviews with tribal leaders, historians, government whistleblowers, journalists, added perspective and insight emanate into the bold and brazen Trump Administration political appointees to the United States Department of the Interior. The once protected public lands are being moved under individual states’ control to maintain – although the states cannot afford to protect and maintain the lands for public use. As a result, much of the land is being sold to the highest bidders, those with the deepest pockets. As one particularly ignorant pol snidely commented, “just let me know what my piece of the public lands is so I can sell it.”
The newest Secretary of the Interior, David Barnhart, has relocated his office into the same building with Exxon and numerous oil and gas mining corporations after Ryan Zinke, who now serves as “an advisor” to Turnberry Solutions, a lobbying firm stacked with former Trump administration advisers and campaign aides, resigned in 2019 among numerous ethics violations. The powerful extractive industries, backed by similar regulation-slashing state legislators and federal agencies, believe public lands across America should be unlocked for mining and exploration with little if any, regard for the environmental scarring and cultural diminishing effects. And, these entities say whatever it takes to get their way.
Interestingly, in closing Public Trust Byars leaves the viewer with pertinent questions about the future of America’s public lands. For instance, who will have unfettered access to these lands? Because as it stands right now it appears the oil and gas industries, in conjunction with mining operations, will solicit more revenue-generating activities from the American people. Imagine futuristic concessionaires charging fees to take you and your family to the mountaintop for sunset while the surrounding lands are stripped until all profit has been removed, and the lands permanently abandoned in an unrestored, highly toxic state. It’s the Trump Administration’s vision of the new American Way of Life.
Public Trust is a very-well researched and thought-provoking documentary. For me as a person who has enjoyed public lands immensely, the film is revealing not only from a cultural and environmental perspective but even more so from a political perspective. Highly recommended.
Nothing quite like leaping into uncharted waters. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 Mountainfilm Festival re-imagined this year’s edition into a virtual experience. And boy, am I glad they did. With over 100 on-demand films and presentations over that I can watch on my time and from the comforts of my home theatre, I sprang out of bed, logged into my newly created account to access my festival (thank you, Nora Bernard), I spied Baato, a limited screening feature.
Without further adieu, I settled myself into a magnificent journey to a mountain peak in Nepal. And, it wasn’t by helicopter. Filmmakers Lucas Millard and Kate Stryker managed to capture an intimate portrait of a family in remote eastern Nepal collecting medicinal herbs, before making an annual 300-kilometer trek, partly on foot and partly by ramshackle bus, to lowland, urban markets – the nearest economic marketplace for their harvested medicinal herbs.
And, like any major endeavor, this one begins with the first step of many as the group sets out by foot with the women carrying the traditional, cultural load while the men complain about how difficult this walking portion of the journey is as they down a simple, collegiate-style backpack. Along the way, however, a three-part narrative emerges as Nepal is undergoing national development and the filmmakers capture a major road project being undertaken to link this area of Nepal to the southern border of China promising less walking and perhaps a less arduous life in some distant future. The massive project has employed many manual laborers, allowed for heavy construction equipment imports, and has a detrimental effect on local farming patches.
Deftly, Baato illuminates developmental pratfalls as road engineers take bribes to avoid destroying homes. Meanwhile, the herb collectors plot to avoid shakedowns by police and bus operators as they miraculously make their way to market. This is an observant film as the viewer witnesses a deep dive into a Himalayan culture engaged in a slow and chaotic, yet inexorable transition to modern life. Excellent cinematography, compelling narrative coupled with a mesmerizing soundtrack makes this documentary a “must-see!”
Stay tuned for more as 2020 Mountainfilm Festival is just beginning.
2020 Mountainfilm Intro by Stephen Burns. I’m putting my seatbelt on!
As you’d expect from a film festival with a penchant to inspire audiences to create a better world, Mountainfilm, a documentary film festival that showcases nonfiction stories about environmental, cultural, climbing, political, and social justice issues that matter, has gone virtual in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The 2020 Mountainfilm edition is featuring over 100 on-demand films and presentations over that viewers can watch at their leisure from the comfort of home in an extended, 10-day festival. To experience Mountainfilm at home, all you really need is a pass and an adventurous heart.