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Telluride’s festival of surprises

Allen Best //May 7, 2010//

Telluride’s festival of surprises

Allen Best //May 7, 2010//

(Editor’s note: This is the first of two parts)

Wildly irresponsible though this may be, I nonetheless nominate Greg Mortenson as the speaker who best exemplifies Telluride Mountainfilm, the annual festival held over Memorial Day weekend.

In 2006, when he first appeared at the festival, Mortenson had just released “Three Cups of Tea.” In that book, Mortenson tells about being cared for by Pakistanis after his failed attempted to climb K2 and his mission to repay that debt by founding schools for girls in Pakistan and Afghanistan. There are now 55 schools.

Few of us in the audience at Telluride had heard of him. His passion was electrifying, the world of ideas suddenly global as we sat in the cramped rows of the Sheridan Opera House, Telluride’s prime venue.

That is what, after 20 years of attendance, I have come to expect at Mountainfilm. Always, there will be the unexpected. Always, the stories of individual action prevail, on film and in the flesh. Sometimes, as in the case of Mortenson, they even involve mountains.

Mortensen will return this year, possibly to chat about Asia with Richard Holbrooke, President Obama’s special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan. Also speaking will be George Packer, a correspondent for the New Yorker who has reported on the U.S. war in Iraq.

Actually, if planning bears fruit, dozens of people will speak and 75 or more films will be shown.

But always there are surprises.

David Holbrooke, the festival director and son of the ambassador, says he is excited to present Mel Goldstein, a social anthropologist who specializes in Tibetan society, history and contemporary politics.

And he points to a film, The Last Train Home, about the world’s largest annual migration, when millions of people in China leave cities and head to the countryside for a holiday.

And yes, there will be films about mountains and mountaineers. Ed Viestures, considered the greatest high-elevation climber from North America, will be there. He climbed all 14 of the world’s 8,000-meter peaks – without supplemental oxygen. “The Wildest Dream,” a film about the quest of climber Conrad Aiker (himself a frequent attendee at Mountain Film) to unravel the mystery of George Mallory’s so-close but unsuccessful climb of Everest in 1924, will be shown.

In recent years, Mountainfilm has partnered with National Geographic, particularly in creating the agenda for the Moving Mountains Symposium. The topics have been huge: water, energy, and food. Speakers solicited to explore the big ideas have national stature.

This year, the “extinction crisis” takes center stage.

Read more next week.
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