Hopeís many forms
Mountainfilm wraps, "Bag It" ties for Audience Choice Award
Photo by Melissa Plantz
Mountainfilm Festival

Timmy OíNeill leads the crowd in "a moment of noise for the living" to close out this yearís Mountainfilm Festival.

On Monday morning at the Palm Theatre, Prudence Mabhena, the subject of the documentary "Music by Prudence," took the stage alone in her wheelchair.

The audience had just finished watching the film, which tells how Prudence, who was born in Zimbabwe with a severe disability and abandoned by her parents, has overcome tremendous challenges to become a musician.

And when Prudence opened her mouth and sang "Amazing Grace" ó her voice a mixture of strength and pain and beauty ó her spirit became a palpable thing, cutting through the darkness and resonating to the balcony with each note.

The performance was but one bright spot in the 2010 Mountainfilm Festival, which offered many versions of hope to its audience ó along with what is at stake if things donít change.

"I hope it affects you," Festival Director David Holbrooke told the sun-soaked crowd at the festivalís closing picnic on Monday. "I know from the first time ... it has affected me. I hope it has an impact, because thatís what we try to do."

This yearís festival filled the box canyon with stories of indomitable spirit ó of taking a leap for personal freedom and finding beauty in a garbage heap and rehabilitating a devastated piece of land ó with four days of films, presentations and speakers.

And in the end, it was a pair of films with local connections that won the hearts of the viewers.

"Bag It" tied with "I Am" for the Audience Choice Award. The first, a film by local filmmaker Suzan Beraza, examines how plastics affect our lives. The second, an autobiographical documentary by director Tom Shadyac, a Telluride regular, digs down to the roots of compassion and happiness.

Beraza, whose feature-length film traveled from Telluride to Midway Island, expressed a deep gratitude as she accepted the award at the picnic.

"The love that I got just overwhelmed me," she said.

Shadyac, meanwhile, said that while heís been in movies for two decades, heís never quite felt an emotion like the one he felt this weekend.

The Directorís Choice Award, meanwhile, was given to "Sons of Perdition," a film that follows three teenage boys who have been exiled from the polygamous compound of Colorado City as they try to find their footing in the larger world.

"They are so strong, they are so inspiring," Holbrooke said about the three boys, who proceeded to take the stage with filmmakers Tyler Measom and Jennilyn Merten to accept the award.

"These kids mean a lot," Measom said. "They believed in themselves and they believed they had something bigger than what their culture had told them."

The Charlie Fowler Award went to "Alone on the Wall," which follows climbing prodigy Alex Honnold on two ground-breaking free-solo projects. The Student Award, judged by a panel of teens from urban areas and the local region, went to "I Am."

And "Fish Out of Water," which focuses on the efforts of Sun Valley Adaptive Sports to heal veterans with fly-fishing, won the Moving Mountains Award, which comes with $4,000 for the program.

Mountainfilm saw a bump in participation this year, counting 15,000 "butts in seats," Holbrooke said. Itís a 25 percent increase from 2009, despite the festival coinciding with gorgeous weather that wasnít exactly conducive with sitting inside a dark theater.

"People are coming back. They just are. They are coming back in a big way," Holbrooke said.

People came to see Greg Mortenson talk about educating the children of Afghanistan and Pakistan; to witness the devastation of natural gas extraction portrayed in "Gasland;" to take in the art of Maya Lin or to watch "Waste Land," a beautiful testament to the capacity of human spirit.

It started on Friday morning with a symposium on extinction that laid out what is at stake if humans donít change. But it ended on an uplifting note.

Dr. Rick Hodes, whose work in mending the backs of children in Africa was chronicled in "Making the Crooked Straight," took the stage at the park, nearly choking up as he made a special announcement. He had just gotten off the phone with a spine surgeon, who told him that he would be operating on Prudence in the near future.

And with that, professional climber Timmy OíNeill got up there, got everyone on their feet and orchestrated a howl ó sort of the opposite of a moment of silence ó and the festival was carried away on the yowls and triumphant cries of the crowd.
Originally published Tuesday, June 1, 2010