Learning from Mountainfilm
Every year Mountainfilm anchors the Studioriley calendar and provides much needed stimulus and inspiration. This year was no exception. The towering presence, even as he crouches down, of David Holbrooke, Festival curator is everywhere. He has taken Mountainfilm’s joy of the physical world and expanded it into a hymn to the whole world, its people, places, fauna, flora, oceans and all that we love.
This years symposium was on the subject of Population and was kicked off by Alex Chadwick with Paul Erlich, author of The Population Bomb and irascible old school raconteur. The essential message of the session, including brilliant presentations by Purnima Mane and Richard Heinberg along with Alex interviewing journalist Eliza Grizwold, was that everything boils down to us. There are too many of us, we are growing as a population dangerously fast and with no limits. Of course Erlich has been talking about this since his Jonny Carson days and feels free now to have a point of view on everything: Governments are inept, science has no influence and religions are corrupt. It is hard to see through his disappointment. The challenge is that The Population Bomb defined an entire generational take on demography. It was flawed then and is somewhat outdated now. But the premise, that population growth is an important determinator of most ills, remains relevant. When was the last time you saw a conversation on demographics on Letterman, for example?
Erlich’s disappointment is grounded in the fact that “nothing has been done” about population growth worldwide. It is as if he believes that something CAN be done. He casts population control in the same political light as Civil Rights and the New Deal. But population management has an ugly face, as the Chinese have experienced. It is one thing enabling women to have access to contraception, saving their lives and livelihoods in the process, as Purnima Mane illustrated so effectively, it is another to enforce fertility limits and terminate the elderly. Erlich is now old and has a personal skew: Control population by limiting births and empowering the elderly. Well, of course he would say that. He is a baby boomer after all.
Mountainfilm then moved to cover all the horrors and the hopes of the modern world. From Fambul Tok, a near perfect demonstration of the pure power of the human spirit, how forgiveness as the ultimate achievement could save our world, to Fishing Without Nets, an inner perspective on Somalian Pirates. The world is indeed complex but at Mountainfilm, if you choose, you can begin to make sense of the drama and realize that we need to get out of our own perceptual zone to see the world through the eyes of others. If ever there was validation that we need to learn from the world, this is it. Paul Erlich’s disappointment is met by extraordinary achievement. The journey of Sandra Steingraber from cancer diagnosis to Rachel Carson’s torchbearer in Living Downstream, is testament to the power of individual enlightenment and how important it is to first understand our world so that we can act to change our relationship with it. There were films on oceans, ice, war, climbing, climbing and climbing (it is, after all, Mountainfilm). Through all of them there is woven a narrative of humanity’s capacities to alter our destiny. It is unlikely that global governance is the answer to massive pollution and other cancers of the planet. Yet when you watch the indomitable spirits that make up the Mountainfilm community you at least can imagine that humanity is not as dumb as its governments and corporations. Real change starts with cognitive change and we ARE changing the way we view the world. Only corporate lawyers and vested interests deny that rapid climate change is not a product of human intervention. Only polluters deny the horror of pollution. Only the most disengaged can possibly deny the value of a better human engagement with both the social ills of inequity and the powerful danger of pollution. It is all here at Mountainfilm where the artists and the activists can connect with those whose love of the earth is often visceral, experienced through climbing, diving or riding, and imagine reversing the processes of desecration. Even Pat Robertson agrees!
Kony 2012 was here. A love story that ends with the film makers son saying he “wants to be like daddy” is suspect from the start but under Eliza Grizwolds patient journalistic probing its failure is revealed: The story is not the ends it is supposed to be the means. One hundred million views is not success. Success was to eliminate Joseph Kony in 2012. There are still a few months to go but, as Grizwold gently pointed out, the U.S. militarization of Africa is not success. She asked if they would do a similar film about AFRICOM to which they shuffled uncomfortably.
Festival highlights included Ai Weiwei: Never sorry, and Bidder 70, the story of Tim De Christopher, Mountainfilms patron saint of activism. There are also amazing films of athleticism, adventure and, well, mountain climbing. There are too many to mention but go here and you will get to see every one of the titles.
Special mention has to go to the incredible Jim Balog and Jeff Orlowski for their film Chasing Ice. I met Jim a few years ago as he was preparing to install time lapse cameras to monitor several of the worlds retreating glaciers. The film is gorgeous, a deep story of artistic vision and occasional madness. The story is also about the power of artistic vision. These beautiful images are momento mori and Jim has now got a voice at the highest level of global politics. The artist is, again, the voice of reason and enlightenment. We are losing the glaciers. It is an important story. Photographs, in this case, do not lie.
So the theme of “population” returned in the form of glacial retreat. It is an interconnected story where too many people consume too much stuff, put too many toxins into the atmosphere, poison our bodies, our rivers and our oceans, warm the globe and change our climate. Last word, for me, goes to Rick Silverman, who, in response to Erlich’s gloom, postulated the rise of a “quasi religious movement” within which we abandon reason as an excuse for inaction and embrace the simple belief that we should stop destroying this paradise called Planet Earth. It was probably the most real action imaginable. We do not need to understand we need to stop. Sandra Steingraber gave us the answer: we abolished slavery, we can abolish pollution.