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The natural world. Looking pretty for 3.5b years.

Docu-Power, or, Reality, Let's Face It, Kind of Sucks

Docu-Power, or, Reality, Let's Face It, Kind of Sucks

Why I Still Like Documentaries, and their Festivals

Author: Reilly Capps/Friday, May 24, 2013/Categories: video

[Photo by Melissa Plantz, courtesy of Mountainfilm]

By Reilly Capps

If you want to be taken seriously, you can't just watch TV, you have to watch movies. And you can't just watch movies. You have to watch them at festivals, where they are called "films." "Films" sounds fancier, Frenchier. It allows you sip champagne and feel cultured, unlike the beer-swillers who watch "movies." You can also call yourself a "buff." This gets you into the best parties. 

There are famous film festivals: Cannes, Toronto, Sundance, where you can't swing a dead cat without hitting someone who's been on the cover of inTouch or snorted coke with Lindsay Lohan. 

And then there are un-famous festivals, the ones journalists rarely attend except to ask such questions as: which filmmaker are you, again? 

Mountainfilm is one of those relatively unknown festivals, a small, ignored stepchild. It's not famous for a lot of reasons. 

First, Mountainfilm deals almost entirely in documentaries which are informative; this is its main downfall. As a general rule, people hate to be informed. I know I do. I'll watch endless "reality" shows, but not many about reality. Reality, let's face it, kind of sucks.

Many of these films are about the environment or mountaineering, since Mountainfilm was originally set up to show movies about … you'll never guess which subject. 

But, increasingly, these documentaries are about obscure or icky subjects -- fishing in bumblefuck Russia, swimming the Amazon from beginning to end, fixing blindness in Africa, torture, phlegmatic larvae. 

Mountainfilm doesn't just show pretty pictures of pretty places. It's not just portraits of massifs and couloirs. The films it shows often attempt to motivate, cajole, and persuade people to become engaged in the world. This is what documentaries often do, and why I avoid documentaries in favor of "Buckwild."  

It is also un-famous because it takes place in a town called Telluride, a small town in southwest Colorado which also hosts a more famous Film Festival. The two are often confused. 

Nonetheless, this festival, on Memorial Day weekend every year, is my favorite weekend every year, and it's played a big part in my life, and in the life of this website, SWP Media. 

I met the co-owner of SWP Media, Hugh Bollinger, at Mountainfilm in 2007, I believe. I was moderating a discussion with the unparalleled writer Pico Iyer, and Hugh was in the audience. He apparently liked the way I asked questions, and so asked me to write for this site. 

What this site tries to do, in fact, is closely linked to what Mountainfilm tries to do. Mountainfilm tries to show movies that show how the world is, that move you or inspire you. SWP owns hundreds of thousands of images, most of them about the outdoors or the mountains. They were taken by explorers and adventurers -- people who love the outside, and mountains, and the natural world. These are beautiful pictures, each one telling a story of a world kissed by good fortune: soft sun rays, liquid water, an atmosphere that turns the whole operation an enchanting shade of blue. 

It's great to gaze on beautiful pictures in quiet contemplation, but what's interesting about Mountainfilm, and about the pictures on this site, is the reaction to those beautiful pictures. 

When you see something beautiful, whether it's a mountain or a handsome man or woman or a flower, I believe there are many natural and normal responses. Some want to possess it, to buy it all up and fence it all off so that only they can see it; some want to defile it, to feel like they've conquered it; some want to protect it, to achieve a measure of immortality by helping something beautiful survive down through the generations.

Among Hugh and I and the others at SWP Media, the most common response is the last one. 

And we believe that, by showing pictures of beautiful things, and trying as best we can to explain why beautiful things are also amazing, that that affection will turn into a desire to protect it. This is important to them. They're trying to achieve a measure of immortality through that. I believe that's what we're all after, unless we just want to sit around watching movies, which is fine. 

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