Mountains of Majestic Cinema


Moving MountainsWaterColor Elevates Event Lineup with MountainFilm on Tour

By Christy Kearney

Each of us faces mountains daily – not the majestic rock forms that line the skies of the Rocky and Appalachian ranges, but challenges. We are confronted with obstacles to overcome, struggles to persevere through and aspirations to fulfill.

It is the celebration of these metaphorical mountains in our lives and the lives of people and unique ecosystems around the globe that sets the stage for the Telluride MountainFilm on Tour at WaterColor. This annual event is heading into its seventh year and quickly has become a tradition for many residents and area visitors.

Some Mountains are Worth Climbing
Each year, Colorado’s MountainFilm in Telluride goes on tour with one goal in mind – making people think.

MountainFilm in Telluride’s motto is “Celebrating Indomitable Spirit,” and its mission is to educate and inspire audiences about “issues that matter, cultures worth exploring, environments worth preserving and conversations worth sustaining.”

The four-day festival, which takes place over Memorial Day Weekend in Telluride, Colo., is a showcase for independent films dealing with world cultures, adventure and the environment.

With the amazing peaks of the San Juan Mountains as the festival backdrop, it is not surprising that the festival began 29 years ago by featuring films focused on mountain-related sports. As the festival has matured, so has the film matter.

“In intervening years, they consciously expanded – expanded cultures, social issues and environmental issues,” said Jim Pettegrew, a 25-year MountainFilm collaborator who helps coordinate the WaterColor event.

The festival also expanded its audience by hitting the road in 2000 for MountainFilm on Tour.

“It started small – five or six stops, mostly schools – and slowly grew from there,” said Justin Clifton, director of MountainFilm on Tour. He is responsible for building, booking and organizing all aspects of the shows.

According to Clifton, there are more than 90 stops on the tour, which now covers five continents. The tour chooses host sites that have missions parallel to the MountainFilm values – communities that have an appreciation for the outdoors, the environment and social justice.

Clifton, like most who work with MountainFilm, is passionate about his work and strongly believes in the effects the festival has on attendees who come with an open mind.
“I can almost guarantee it will be a life-altering experience,” he said.

Pettegrew and technical director John Rosenberg, who both moved to the Emerald Coast from Colorado to work on the film festival at WaterColor, agree.

“Our goal is to entertain, inspire, educate,” Pettegrew added.

The Mountains Meet the Beach
MountainFilm on Tour made its WaterColor debut in 2001 after a suggestion from a MountainFilm associate who lived half of the year in Colorado and half the year at Seaside. She knew WaterColor was looking for ways to enhance the community experience, and she knew WaterColor and MountainFilm were built on the same environmentally friendly principles.

The communities in southern Walton County take pride in their dedication to conserving the area’s natural surroundings, and it is this dedication that makes WaterColor a great fit for MountainFilm on Tour.

Clifton attended the WaterColor festival in 2006 and was “really amazed” at the area’s love for the environment.

“People really take it to heart,” he said.

The WaterColor festival, which hosted approximately 250 attendees in its first year, now welcomes more than 1,200 festival-goers over the two-day weekend.

“Energy,” the theme for the 2007 festival, is an innate part of the atmosphere every year as families and friends bundle up for the crisp November weather and come together under the stars at the WaterColor amphitheater overlooking Western Lake.

According to Pettegrew, there is something very special and exciting about seeing a film on the big screen and with other people.

“The power of seeing something on a large screen makes a difference,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what you’re watching. It’s just better, different.”

“It’s so fun to come with a group,” Rosenberg said. “You see groups chatting through the intermission, discussing the films.”
The festival, which will benefit the Seaside Repertory Theatre this year, is a family affair, with special activities for the kids and refreshments available on site. For attendees who want to dig a little deeper, special guest filmmakers and local artists are available for meet-and-greet discussions and exhibits throughout the festival weekend.

The festival started as an enhancement for WaterColor but has turned into something much more, says Pettegrew.

“It’s gone beyond that,” he said. “People up and down 30A look forward to it.”

Films with a Social Conscience
The biggest criterion for a film to be a part of the event is that it is a “good story, well told,” Pettegrew said. Each night showcases a unique lineup, with a variety of movies anywhere from two minutes to 45 minutes long.

The movies, directors, narrators and producers are not names typically recognized from mainstream Hollywood. Pettegrew and Rosenberg urge attendees to trust them to deliver something they’ve never seen before.

“You’ll be intrigued,” Rosenberg promised. “We strive for the highest-quality image. People are never upset with what is delivered visually. Quality and presentation are of highest value to us.”

While the official lineup will not be finalized until the day of the event, tour organizers will be pulling from 15 possible films, all of which were shown at MountainFilm in Telluride.

Storylines cover everything from extreme kayaking in South America to speed-flying down the Eiger in Switzerland, flying across Africa in an ultralight plane, protecting the Rocky Mountain West from the gas and oil industry, and discovering the changing world of the New Zealand eel.

“We have two and a half hours and wish we had five,” Pettegrew said about the nightly play lists. “We have so much good stuff to show you.”

The topics are broad and expose festival-goers to new experiences, new ways of thinking and new environmental issues.

“You don’t have to change the way you live,” said Pettegrew, who admits that some of the films might make viewers squirm. “We just give you fodder to chew on. If you don’t leave thinking, we didn’t do our job.”