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Down from the mountain
Colorado's Mountainfilm pays Savannah a second visit
'Nico's Challenge'

Mountainfilm isn’t about exciting new innovations in filmmaking, nor is it about Hollywood glamorizing or hot–shot directors. It’s not animation. It’s not computer–generated.

Mountainfilm, which makes its second annual road–trip appearance in Savannah this weekend, concerns itself solely with the earth and its infinite possibilities. It began in Telluride, Colo., in the late 1970s, and within a few years could claim to be “America’s leading independent documentary film festival.” In 1999, Mountainfilm On Tour was born, bringing the festival’s central issues – the breathtaking beauty of the planet, and man’s place, both good and bad, in it – to Anytown, U.S.A.

The touring festival’s director is Justin Clifton, who happens to have spent three years in Savannah, about a decade ago. So this will be a homecoming – of sorts – for him.

Clifton wears his Mountainfilm status like a badge of honor. He’s proud of these movies, and of the part he’s playing in bringing them all the way across the country from the Rocky Mountains.

Mountainfilm, he says, “is to awaken audiences. It’s to bring people stories that they normally don’t have access to. And to address topics that maybe they haven’t thought about. Our mission statement is ‘to educate and inspire audiences,’ and I think that encompasses the whole notion of what we’re trying to do.

“It’s packaging new information in an entertaining way – that’s what makes the evening and event so special.”     Clifton will introduce each film, and conduct a Q&A session following the screenings.

Here are a few of the highlights (each feature will be preceded by several short films):

Bag It

Suzan Beraza’s documentary, which debuted in Telluride, starts as a film about plastic bags, and evolves into a wholesale investigation into plastic and its effect on our lives, bodies and waterways.

Justin Clifton: “We hope to educate people about the effects of plastic, both on our environment and on our own personal health. And maybe make some decisions in their lives to help reduce the amount of plastic that we’re using. It isn’t a fully–balanced documentary film, in the sense that it obviously has a slant to educate people on the dangers of plastic. And it’s not professing that the plastics industry is great.

“We’re not trying to be preachy. We’re not evangelizing anything. We’re bringing kind of a different medium to the conversation, in that this isn’t content that you get when you turn on ABC or NBC News. It’s independent content made by independent people. And our hope is that people will be able to take from these films some nugget that will inspire them in one way or another.”

Screens at 7 p.m. Jan. 22

Nico’s Challenge

A short film by Steve Audette documenting young Tanzania resident Nico Calabria and his family, and Nico’s refusal to let a physical disability slow him down.

Justin Clifton: “It’s about a young boy who was born with one leg. There’s a family tradition that, when a young man turns 13 years old, the father and son go on a trip. Nico and his father had been getting into climbing, and they decide to do this climb up Kilimanjaro as his coming–of–age trip. What makes the story compelling is that Nico, who has required crutches to get around all of his life, found out that in many parts of Africa there are people that don’t have access to any sort of accessibility devices. So he decided to turn it into a fundraiser, as well, to hopefully raise money to purchase wheelchairs for disabled people in Africa. He set out a goal to raise $25,000 – and ended up raising $100,000.

“So the film is really more of a story about he and his father’s trip together. It really is just a beautiful story, because it has this father–son, strong family connection within the film, and then it also has this other thing that just highlights how large Nico’s heart is.”

Screens at 3 p.m. Jan. 22

Eastern Rises

A documentary from Telluride filmmakers (and fly fishing enthusiasts) Travis Rummel and Ben Knight.
Justin Clifton: “It’s actually a fly–fishing film that takes us to the Kamchatka peninsula in Russia, which happens to be one of the last truly wild places on the planet. There are thousands of unnamed, unexplored rivers all along the Kamchatka peninsula. The way they kind of describe it is ‘the way Alaska used to be.’ It this adventure that these guys go on, and the way it’s told, it’s just hilarious from beginning to end. It’s beautifully shot, and it highlights a part of the world that most people don’t know exists. When you think of Russia, this isn’t what you think of.”

Screens at 7 p.m. Jan. 21

Mountainfilm in Savannah

Where: Charles H. Morris Center, 10 E. Broad St.

When: Three screenings – Jan. 21 and 22

Tickets (for each screening): $10 adult; $5 children, students, at Half Moon Outfitters and at the door

Opening reception at 6 p.m. Jan. 21

Info: (912) 443–3277

Last-minute addition: The U.S. Green Building Council screens “Climate Refugees” at 1 p.m. Jan. 21, at the Morris Center