Since the Telluride Mountain Film Festival launched in 1979, the definition of "environmentalist" has both broadened and become much more diverse. Likewise, the collection of films for this annual festival—and its subsequent tour of short films around the country—has become more complicated and more nuanced about the definition it provides for modern-day environmentalism.
Duke & The Buffalo is a typical entry, an engaging profile of a swath of land in the Southwest where buffalo, yes, roam free, and stiff-backed cowboys still exist. It is a sun-drenched film, with thundering footage of cowboys rounding up (or trying to) herds of wild buffalo. It is also a great exposition about modern-day conservation, a mindset that instead of pitting ranchers' use of natural resources against a purist desire to preserve every square inch of land has learned to protect both the bison and the ranchers' lifestyle. This message is hardly heavy-handed, but is smartly delivered with interviews from a Nature Conservancy rep and with a-ha moments by the ranchers. Mostly, though, it is just a wonderful visit to a remote land and lifestyle.
A less traditional film for the festival, The Record Breaker is a curious entry that, at first glance, doesn't seem to fit the mold of "environmental," but once all told, truly captures the spunk and curiosity that lies at the heart of most adventurers. After all, the tagline for the festival is "celebrating indomitable spirit."
Ashrita Furman holds some 350 Guinness records, from balancing a lawn mower on his chin the longest, to walking 10 meters in the world's heaviest shoes. The film loosely traces his attempt to scale Machu Picchu on stilts, but the real thrust of the movie is the idea that physical exploration is a means, as Furman says, to a "deeper meaning to life."
He is a smart Jewish kid from a traditional Bronx family (his dad is a successful attorney), who jumped the mainstream tracks. Now in his 60s, Furman runs a health food store and has crafted a full-time hobby out of pursuing and breaking Guinness records; some are hilariously fun to watch on the screen (like long-distance hobby horsing) and Furman is low-key charming.
With echoes of the family tension from Into the Wild, the story is layered with interviews with his parents, who wanted a more traditional pathway and lifestyle for their son, but eventually embraced his pursuits. "A lot of the records," the younger Furman admits, "are kid's stuff—jumping, hopping—but it just makes me happy." Later in the movie, his dad concludes that his son is probably the happiest person in the world, "and isn't that what every parents wants for their kid?" A truly sweet and inspiring 22-minute profile.
Tower Theatre, 835 NW Wall
7 pm, Friday, Feb. 27 & Saturday, Feb 28
(different films each night)
$20/one night (adv); $35/both nights