Up in the Clouds – Annual Telluride Film Fest returns with the best in nature docs

A scene from the film "As It Happens"
A scene from the film “As It Happens”

Since its inception 32 years ago, the Telluride Mountainfilm Festival has always been a place to celebrate the beauty of nature, the exhilaration of rock climbing and the thrill of discovering the unknown. The six films that make up the touring program coming to UCSB deliver on the above articles, but also provide more, including New York surfers, Scottish skiing and Russian Sasquatch hunting.

Curator Justin Clifton oversees the dozen people who screen the 600 or so films up for submission. Clifton whittles it down, though.

“We’ve evolved to include social and environmental films,” he says. “The kinds of films each year fluctuates not with our mood, but with the filmmakers themselves.” In a lighter way, that can mean an inordinate amount of kayaking films one year. In another way, that could mean films taking on global warming, and that’s more the world’s decision. The filmmakers “go out on these great adventures and come back with films that are not about their achievements but about something they discovered along the way. As a result we are becoming more of an activism-based film festival.”

Three of the six films journey to the mountains. Renan Ozturk and Corey Bradshaw’s scaling of the Tawoche Himal peak in Nepal happened only this year, and the ensuing documentary called “As It Happens” came out of the live blog they created while they undertook the climb. The film includes all the colorful characters they met along the way, and definitely shows off the intersection of cultures as the climbers enter Tibet.

“Nico’s Challenge” finds a father and a 13-year-old son setting off on a brave right of passage: climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro, even braver as Nico, the son, has only one leg. As one can imagine, the film inspires through its protagonist and its photography.

“Point of No Return” however, comes on like a pretty typical sports-channel doc about rock climbing, except for its end twist, which this reviewer won’t reveal, but let’s just call it a reality check of great magnitude.

The other three films couldn’t be more different. “11 Degrees” finds that yes, there are ski resorts in Scotland, but no, the snow isn’t good this year. Or for the last few years, as global warming has changed an entire culture and home grown business. One of the shortest films in the fest, Anna Ewert’s piece says a lot in very little.

“Facing the Waves” feels the most like a personality and not nature documentary, following the new life in Rockaway Park, N.Y., forged by Bobby Vaughn, one of the founders of the Von Dutch cap company, after he must leave Los Angeles for legal reasons. Vaughn is a fascinating character, but one gets the sense that there’s way more to the story than director Lee Quinby gets in his 15 minutes.

Finally, “Eastern Rises” takes a 40-minute trip into the wilds of Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula, where directors Ben Knight and Travis Rummel, along with daredevil anglers Frank Smethurst and his friends plan to go fly-fishing. None are prepared for the crazy and sometimes gross — you’ll find that some fish have a very odd diet — happenings along the way. And did we mention Sasquatch? He’s there in the trees…if you look closely.

When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday
Where: UCSB’s Campbell Hall
Cost: $10 general, $8 UCSB students
Information: (805) 893-3535 or www.artsandlectures.sa.ucsb.edu

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