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Monday, Mar 4, 2024

Cliff-Hanger: Mountainfilm showcases all types of terrain

In Maggie Bryan’s column “Cliff-Hanger,” she reviews outdoor films and explores the power of adventure as a catalyst to conversations over modern issues.

A crunchy crowd of Middlebury students gathered in Dana Hall on Thursday, Nov. 30 for what, at this point, is an annual tradition for the outdoorsy, socially conscious community: Mountainfilm. 

Since 1979, the Mountainfilm film festival has taken place annually in Telluride, Colo. The festival, which is one of America’s oldest, consists of a collection of documentary films, each of which serves to highlight values of adventure, environmentalism, activism and cultural connection. Since 1999, each iteration of Mountainfilm has gone on a post-festival tour to bring its highlights to outdoor retailers, schools, theaters and other organizations around the world. And for the past few years, Middlebury has been a stop on the tour. 

Despite what its name suggests, Mountainfilm captures stories from a diverse array of topographies. This year’s tour featured eight films, each of which transported audiences to a new location, from California’s South Bay to Capitol Hill. Each film played a role in creating an overall inspiring and thought-provoking experience, yet a few stood out as highlights. 

The first film in the series, “To be Frank,” follows Frank Paine, a lifelong surfer who continues to find joy in the water. Although isolating for some, Frank views surfing as a source of community.His surfing group, which he calls the “familia,” is central to his sustained love for the sport. The film is a powerful yet lighthearted meditation on the importance of community and the value of recreation for all ages. 

The third film in the series highlights the service organization 4DWN in South Dallas, which aims to sustainably foster the health of kids and communities, all the while using an unexpected inspiration: skateboarding. Recognizing the simultaneous need for inclusive spaces of recreation and food desert solutions in Dallas, skaters Rob Cahill and Mike Crum created 4DWN. The film itself follows Cahill and 11-year-old skater Zion Carr as they bond over their shared love of skateboarding. Despite the challenges he faces outside of the skate park, under the guidance of Cahill, Carr finds a contagious amount of joy and humor in skating. The audience chuckled as Carr vlogged himself attempting new moves and letting his viewers know that he is 11 years old, a skater and single. 

Next up, “Who is a Runner” uses a more intense tone to speak out on the missing and murdered indigenous women crisis. University of Washington runner Rosalie Fish feels a

personal connection to the crisis and uses her platform as a racer to raise awareness for it. During each of her races, Fish paints a red handprint over her mouth to represent the silencing of indigenous women. 

“Apayauq” follows Apayauq Reitan, the first openly trans woman to compete in the 1,000- mile Iditarod sled dog race. The film simultaneously traces Reitan’s figurative journey as a trans woman and her literal journey across Alaska during the race. It is perhaps the most visually stunning film in the series, with breathtaking aerial shots of the Alaskan landscape chronicling Reitan’s route through the Alaskan wilderness and giving viewers a slice of the eerily vast setting. 

Mountainfilm’s final highlight was hardly a mountainous film. Narrated by scholar Gwendolyn Mink, the film follows Patsy Mink, the first congresswoman of color in the United States and Gwendolyn’s mother. The film opens with suspense as Gwendolyn describes her mother’s principal accomplishment during her congressional career, Title IX, and how she, as a teenager, almost derailed it. Despite showing few outdoor scenes, the film was a powerful representation of the gender dynamics at play in both politics and athletics, as well as an important reminder of the role of legislation in our experiences of equity in recreation. 

As the voices of Mountainfilm remind us, Middlebury’s outdoor adventure and athleticism. Giving a platform to diverse narratives is a crucial step in making more inclusive and vibrant scenes of environmentalism, activism, adventure and community at Middlebury as a whole. Vice President of Mountain Club Bella Lucente ’25 reflected the importance of this sentiment for Mountain Club in particular in an email to The Campus: 

“The show was not simply a montage of impressive outdoor feats but a truly inspiring and diverse portrait of the ‘indomitable spirit’ that Mountainfilm seeks to capture. These ideas really resonate with the Mountain Club, as creating more inclusive outdoor experiences is one of our core goals. Sharing these powerful films with the Middlebury community provides amazing representation and hopefully inspires everyone to get outside— or do whatever else they’re dreaming of—no matter their background.”

Maggie Bryan

Maggie Bryan '25 (she/her) is the Senior Arts and Culture Editor.

Maggie has previously served as Arts and Culture Editor and Staff Writer. She hails from Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and is double majoring in French and Environmental Policy. This spring, she will be studying abroad in Paris. During her free time, she can be found running on the TAM or teaching spin classes in the FIC.