Review: Mountainfilm Festival

Cy Burchenal, Staff Reporter


The 40th annual Mountainfilm Festival will commence this May. In preparation of that, Mountainfilm is conducting its world tour. Showing in cities across New Zealand, Australia, Canada and the United States, Mountainfilm offers a host of documentaries. The festival describes itself as “a documentary film festival that showcases nonfiction stories about environmental, cultural, climbing, political and social justice issues that matter.”

Fortunately the Mountainfilm Festival visited Walla Walla on tour Wednesday, Feb. 27, at the Marcus Whitman. The festival was thought provoking. A general sentiment describing the festival would be ‘it’s okay not to be Banff.’ A large portion of the films were the generic REI or Patagonia TM high gloss. So many films were composed in virtually identical ways. They all featured the same long aerial shots of snow capped mountains, combined with the cliched monologue of the individual athlete risking life and limb for their passion. This style of outdoor film has quickly become cliche, even if it has produced some genuine classics. But you can only watch so many cookie cutter documentaries by big brand name outdoor retailers before you simply stop caring.

The moments of the screening most enjoyable were the ones least related to the festival’s primary theme of mountaineering and similar sports. Thankfully, Mountainfilm had some wonderfully creative entries that did the most with the criteria offered by the festival. “Felix,” by Allison Otto, has virtually nothing to do with the rest of the catalogue, but was still stunning. A brief film at just six minutes, “Felix” focuses on the daily life of 99 year old DJ Felix Belmont. The touching, and genuinely hilarious, way in which the film paints the life of an old man having the time of his life is likely the best slice of documentary filmmaking I’ve seen in a long time.

Equally stunning and simplistically beautiful is Alex Gorosh’ and Wylie Overstreet’s three minute wonder “A New View of the Moon.” The premise is simple. In the evening Overstreet takes his telescope onto a street corner in LA, and points it at the moon. People, being naturally curious, come up and ask him what he’s set up. Overstreet offers to show them the moon through his telescope. The childlike wonder of the dozens of people really seeing the moon, many for the first time, is genuinely heartwarming. The pure joy and amazement on the faces of perfect strangers all united by a common experience makes for exceptional documentary filmmaking.

Fans of climbing documentaries would surely not be disappointed by Mountainfilm’s selection, even if some of them aren’t terribly creative, and for the non-climbers there are enough truly wonderful non-outdoor offerings to merit the ticket price. The catalogue may be hectic, but it’s still quite the selection.