“Attending” a Virtual Film Festival: Mountainfilm 2020

One of my all-time favorite activities, going to film festivals, has changed drastically during the COVID-19 Pandemic. Many film festivals have been cancelled, some postponed and some have continued by utilizing online platforms. This year’s Mountainfilm choose to continue in a virtual fashion. Instead of gathering in Telluride, Colorado with other festival goers and filmmakers, fans of the festival could choose to purchase a pass for $75 to have access to all the programs or to purchase individual tickets for $10 each.

The Festival platform, Eventive, was easy to navigate and provided details on each film. You could sort through the program to find Shorts or Features and scroll through the Special Presentations that had been recorded. There was even an assortment of LIVE Events to choose from. Some programs that were only available for a short window of time to mimic a limited festival screening. The majority of the program was available to stream online from May 15-25, 2020. Once you purchased a program, you had 24 hours to finish watching it. All of the “Welcome” videos were free to stream as was the fun Awards Presentation.

A year ago, we were shivering in Telluride as we waited in line for films.

One of the wonderful things about Mountainfilm and other festivals is the gathering of like-minded people. While standing in line, you get to discuss the films you’re excited about and there’s a buzz of anticipation over certain invited guests and programs. This year, that buzz was mostly missing. There was an attempt to use social media to share opinions in real time before and during the festival and that helped. I didn’t tune in for any Live Events but I’m sure that also helped build more of a sense of community.

For local filmmakers, there was a fun solution. Hold an outdoor screening of your film with supporters attending in a socially-distant manner! Hayley Nenadal, Producer of the Adventure Short, Stoke Chasers, held a screening in Telluride. It makes a difference to get to share your film in person with an audience and see your hard work appreciated.  It’s hard for filmmakers to gauge an audience’s response from comments posted during an online Q&A.

Many people shared photos on social media of their families gathered to stream a film or projecting a film in an outdoor setting to share with others. Everyone was trying to recreate the Mountainfilm ethos of building community. One of the ways the Mountainfilm Programmers made the films enticing is by keeping the Short films that had been paired with the feature and adding a recorded Introduction and/or a question & answer session with filmmakers. One thing that was missing for me was the chance to view trailers of the features to help choose between the vast selection of worthy shorts and features.

Emma Gonzalez and Cameron Kasky lead youth protesters in the Road to Change, screenshot from Us Kids, Mountainfilm 2020

Having limited means and limited time, I chose to watch two Shorts Programs and two Features. I had planned to see Personhood but missed my screening window. I enjoyed the many shorts in the Adventure Shorts 1 program and loved the combination screening of the three award-winning shorts: Originate, Welcome Strangers, and Second Sight. I was particularly inspired by Casa De Paz and Sarah Jackson’s story of having hosted 3000 guests from over 70 countries in her Denver sanctuary for immigrant families. I’ve missed earlier opportunities to see The Story of Plastic, so I made the time for that documentary. Deia Schlosberg’s 1st feature documentary is quite an eye-opener! I was moved and saddened by Us Kids and enjoyed listening to the Q&A with Kim Snyder, the Director/Producer and two of the activists from March For Our Lives, Sam Fuentes and Briana Smith.

Listening to the Q&A for 17 Blocks w/director Davy Rothbart

I’m glad I made the time to see a few of the programs at this year’s virtual Mountainfilm. Had I been Sheltering-in-Place with other film enthusiasts or activists or action adventure/outdoor sport lovers, I’m sure I’d have watched more films. By myself, in my room, on my laptop…the prospect of streaming was not as appealing. I found it hard to drum up the enthusiasm these films deserve. I saw one of my favorite films at Mountainfilm last year, 17 Blocks. I stood out in a snowstorm to welcome filmmakers and direct them to the Filmmaker Dinner and enjoyed volunteering for theater support. It was a wonderful time. We’re all sad that so many events are being cancelled this year but gathering with activists and film enthusiasts is still a possibility…online!

As reported in the Telluride Daily Planet, this year’s virtual film festival was a success.

“As of May 20, we had 5,194 passholders and sold 1,975 single-program tickets, reaching 7,169 people around the world,” said Sage Martin, the festival’s executive director. “We had people join our online festival from all 50 states and 134 countries. Although nothing beats gathering in person, in Telluride, the online festival allowed us to reach people where they are: in their homes and on their own time.”

In an update post-festival, Mountainfilm reached over 9500 people who tuned in to watch over 100 documentary shorts and features as reported by Bria Light (And the Award Goes To, May 26th, Telluride Daily Planet).

Drinks with Films Ratings

Stoke Chasers 3 long neck beers enjoyed by a bonfire (out of 5), filmed in 16mm by Jo Anna Edmiston, this short feels like a 70’s film due to the retro clothes and aesthetic. Nice to see these young gals celebrating their surfing/skating skills. Kudos to rejecting sexism and facing their fears.

Welcome Strangers 4 welcome cups of tea (out of 5) — an uplifting short about one woman’s mission to help immigrants get back on their feet and reunite with their families. Casa De Paz is a respite from the harsh cruelty of a Denver Immigration Detention Center.

Second Sight 3 celebrations drinks (out of 5) for this short film detailing how a $25 eye surgery can save people suffering from cataract blindness. Through the story of one Filipino family, Cole Sax crafts a compelling tale. I was moved to support these doctors’ mission to bring sight to impoverished families.

The Story of Plastic 4 drinks not served in a single serving plastic container (out of 5) — instead of focusing on plastic pollution, the film showcases the real culprit: oil and gas companies. Looking at the International effects of the Petrochemical Complex and the corporate entities like Unilever and Pepsico creating products that can’t be recycled; the most compelling arguments are made via animation.

Us Kids 3 Starbucks triple espresso Frappuccinos (out of 5) – what happens when 20 traumatized teens board a bus to try to save the US from gun violence? Starting with the Parkland shooting survivors, this documentary doesn’t just focus on Emma Gonzalez, who’s activism was much celebrated. But instead shares David Hogg’s conversations trying to speak rationally to the counter protesters sporting their weapons, Brianna Smith’s attempts to focus on the black and brown youths gunned down in inner cities and awkward Sam Fuentes, an emotional teen w/difficulty speaking in public. It’s a very real look at what these teenagers accomplished and I wish it’d been released Pre COVID. I fear that the chapters of March For Our Lives that sprang up around the country may struggle to rally the vote in the fall. We need the youth vote to fight for our country.

To see the list of all the 2020 Mountainfilm Awards, click HERE. Congratulations to the Moutainfilm staff and all the filmmakers on a successful virtual festival!

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