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A Major US Outdoor Film Festival Is Going Virtual. Here's What to Watch.

United States Outdoor Festivals
by Tim Wenger May 6, 2020

With movie theaters shuttered and large gatherings postponed across the globe, event organizers have been forced to get creative in order to keep on the calendar. Spring and summer film festivals, often very niche operations that depend on small-scale directors and production companies along with repeat clientele earmarking dates on their calendar each year, may sadly struggle this year. The social-distancing measures and travel ban have left them without visiting guests nor the use of theaters in which to host them.

However, their black-sheep status seems to be keeping many festivals alive throughout the pandemic. This is mainly because most of us with the means to attend a film fest also have a screen and internet access at home. Mountainfilm, which typically takes place each May in Telluride, Colorado, will bring 100 adventure films and more than a dozen presentations and workshops to digital viewers May 15-25.

“The magic of Mountainfilm is that it touches people, inspires change, and provides hope. Now more than ever, we all need to do our part to create a better world,” said Executive Director Sage Martin in a press release.

Passes to this year’s digital version of Mountainfilm run for $75 and can be purchased via the festival’s website. Festival organizers are getting creative to cater to the varying schedules and predicaments of its fans — films will be available on-demand, and individual films and presentations can be watched for $10 each in lieu of buying the full pass.

“We hope that making Mountainfilm available to experience at home with family or roommates will be a welcome and inspiring change,” said Martin. “Get comfy, grab your popcorn and buckle up for some life-altering films.”

Films selected for the fest range from uplifting stories of cross-culture unity to powder day chargers to biographical documentaries. If you can’t block off 10 days to watch them all, here are the ones we’re most excited about.

1. A Home Called Nebraska

Directed by Beth Gage and George Gage

Positive stories about immigration and resettlement are rarer than ever. Nebraska has long been a home for resettled refugees and victims of war. Then came the Trump administration, which sparked the flames of racism and bigotry in many of the country’s most conservative areas. This film sees a group of longtime Nebraska locals who are working to dispel this prejudice by going out of their way to welcome residents from diverse backgrounds to the state.

Length: 69 minutes

2. Border Nation

Directed by Jason Jaacks

Director Jason Jaacks tells the story of the Tohono O’odham Nation, which lives on both sides of the US-Mexico border in southern Arizona and northern Sonora, Mexico. After 9/11, the community was ripped in half by surveillance towers and barricades, and the film documents the struggle not only to survive as a community but also uphold long-held traditions and relationships.

Length: 19 minutes

3. Nenad, Who Plays Ping Pong

Directed by Brandon Lavoie

After being diagnosed with Parkinson’s, Croatian musician Nenad Bach took up ping pong as a form of therapy. Bach has since formed a charity — Ping Pong Parkinsons — to spread the joys and physical benefits of the sport to others experiencing the same. Lavoie’s film shows how the accidental discovery of this sport saved his life and helped guide him through the forced end of his musical career.

Length: six minutes

4. Unnur

Directed by Chris Burkard

Photographer Chris Burkard tells the story of Icelander Elli Thor and his daughter Unnur, who have eschewed most modern amenities in pursuit of life’s simple pleasures — surfing, family, and the natural environment. Following a tragic experience, Thor chooses to encourage his daughter to follow her heart.

Length: 17 minutes

5. Matagi MĀlohi

Directed by Forrest Woodward, Canyon Woodward, and Aidan Haley

Due to climate change, the current children of the small island nation of Tuvalu may be the country’s last native generation. This film follows local activists working to ensure the country’s future in a warming world.

Length: three minutes

6. Lhotse

Directed by Dutch Simpson and Nick Kalisz

This film follows pro ski mountaineers Hilaree Nelson and Jim Morrison in their quest to complete the first ski descent of the Lhotse Couloir, which runs down the face of the world’s fourth-highest peak. The journey takes a personal toll on both, giving the viewer an inspiring take on grit, determination, and willpower.

Length: 23 minutes

7. Public Trust

Directed by David Garrett Byars

Public lands in the United States face a unique threat from the Trump administration — high-power private executives put into political positions that offer them a massive say in the future of the public lands. The increased push for privatization and the leasing of grounds to extractive industries could permanently alter the face of recreational land used by hikers, hunters, anglers, and other outdoor enthusiasts. Byars’ full-length documentary outlines the threats to America’s public lands and highlights efforts to save them.

Length: 96 minutes

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