11 Woman-Powered Short Films from the 2019 Mountainfilm Festival

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Forgoing the highest peak or the toughest summit, the subjects of these films tackle deeper challenges of the heart, mind and society.

Mountainfilm, a festival of film, art and adventure founded in 1979 and hosted annually in Telluride, Colorado, came alive last month for its 41st year. This year, festival director Suzan Beraza and her team made a concerted effort to program films, panels, art and events to celebrate the changing face of the outdoors. “It is a priority for Mountainfilm to feature stories by and about women as we celebrate and honor diverse voices,” she said.

This year’s heroes looked a little different from years past. Instead of striving for the highest peak, the hardest summit or the most remote location, the subjects in these films overcame barriers internal and societal. These films help broaden the concept of the hero, and the definition of adventure. Many of the films were directed and produced by women, or shared stories of women. Here are 11 (we couldn’t stop at just 10) short adventure films to watch in 2019:

The Litas

  • Directed by: William Desena
  • Starring: Gevin Fax
  • Run time: 7 minutes
  • See it if: You like to go fast!

“This is a story about women who live like rushing wind,” says Gevin Fax, the subject and voice of “The Litas” by William Desena. The film greets the audience at a meeting of women who ride motorcycles, and then dips back into Fax’s life story, providing a look at the moment she first fell in love with dirt bikes. It continues detailing moments from Fox's life, all the way up through when she discovered The Litas, the largest all-female biker collective in the world. 

The Mystery of Now

  • Directed by: Audrey Buchanan
  • Starring: Douglas Miles, Douglas Miles Jr., Di’orr Greenwood and the athletes of Apache Skateboards
  • Run time: 17 minutes
  • See it if: You like films that destabilize traditional historical narratives; you’re a fan of hip hop.

In “The Mystery of Now,” director Audrey Buchanan reveals the story of Apache Skateboards, founded by Douglas Miles. In part, the film focuses on Di’orr Greenwood, a team rider and member of the Diné Tribe. If you hung around the skatepark in Telluride during the festival, you could catch sight of Di’orr flying around the bowl. This film works to destabilize the problematic notion that Native American communities exist in the past, rather than the present. It also includes a bumping soundtrack, a bold approach to graphics and vivid stories of life on the San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation.

Lost World

  • Directed by: Kalyanee Mam
  • Starring: Vy Phalla
  • Run time: 16 minutes
  • See it if: You’re interested in stories of globalization; you’re inspired by strong women activists.

In “Lost World,” Kalyanee Mam brings us along on a journey as one woman, Vy Phalla, witnesses the world she knows change. Phalla spends most days shelling crabs with other fisherwomen and hunting for snails in the mangroves with her family in Koh Sralau, Cambodia. But nearby, barges from Singapore dredge millions of metric tons of sand to help Singapore expand its own landmass. The film reveals how, as a result, mangrove forests, estuaries and coastline beaches are disappearing in and around the island of Koh Sralau. Livelihoods and homes are under threat—and this film asks us to consider how we treat the planet and to what end.

Mi Mamá

  • Directed by: Jade Begay and James Q. Martin
  • Starring: Nadia Mercado
  • Run time: 6 minutes
  • See it if: You’re moved by stories of close family bonds.

This film hangs on a powerful subject, Nadia Mercado, as she reflects on the time she spent in Arches National Park with her mother. In the course of the film, Mercado realizes that she shares her mother’s same strong spirit; in fact, it’s a part of her legacy. During the festival, Nadia delivered a message of the importance of empowering women storytellers to share much-needed, historically overlooked stories.  

Cracking Ice Ceilings

  • Directed by: Mariano Carranza
  • Starring: The Cholita Climbers of Bolivia
  • Run time: 3 minutes
  • See it if: You love mountains; you like stories that shake up the status quo.

Flowered skirts, bowler hats, shawls, brooches and ice axes—this is the unlikely combination on display in “Cracking Ice Ceilings,” by director Mariano Carranza. The film follows a group of Quechua and Aymara women who proudly bring their Cholita culture into the mountains, even as they face daily ostracism by mainstream culture, including systemic marginalization. Their joy emanates through the entire journey. (The author personally hopes the filmmakers choose to turn this into a longer piece because the audience was on the edge of their seats during these screenings.)

A woman watching a film with a pensive look in a darkened theater

Photo Credit: Mountainfilm Festival

Ashes to Ashes

  • Directed by: Taylor Rees
  • Starring: Winfred Rembert and Dr. Shirley Jackson Whitaker
  • Run time: 26 minutes
  • See it if: You love American history; you enjoy the process of art-making.

In one of two films appearing at Mountainfilm this year from director Taylor Rees, “Ashes to Ashes” follows the friendship and creative endeavors of Winfred Rembert and Dr. Shirley Jackson Whitaker. Rees says her work on the film began when her dad casually mentioned to his friend, Dr. Whitaker, that his daughter was a filmmaker. Soon, Rees found herself pulled into a community with narratives that needed to be shared. The film traces the story of Dr. Whitaker as she plans the funeral that never took place for the many African American victims of lynching during the 19th and 20th centuries in the United States. Rembert paints and etches American history throughout the film and we learn his personal history, an unthinkable past, too closely intertwined with Dr. Whitaker’s life’s work.

Chasing the Sublime

  • Directed by: Amanda Bluglass
  • Starring: Kate Rew and Kari Furre
  • Run time: 6 minutes
  • See it if: You like stories of friendship; you enjoy the cold; you’re a water person.

Director Amanda Bluglass reveals the story of strong female friendship between Kate Rew, the founder of the Outdoor Swimming Society (OSS), and Kari Furre, a sculptor, swimmer and self-proclaimed OSS muse. Rew and Furre seek both freedom and discomfort in their lives by swimming the rivers and lakes of Scotland. Among other details, we learn that even the founder of the Outdoor Swimming Society hesitates in the moment before she dives into a cold body of water.

Dawa

  • Directed by: Anna Callaghan
  • Starring: Dawa Yangzum Sherpa
  • Run time: 3 minutes
  • See it if: You’re looking for inspiration; you’re a mountain person (or you aim to be).

Clocking in at just three minutes, this short by Anna Callaghan introduces us to Dawa Yangzum Sherpa, the first Nepalese woman to receive an International Federation of Mountain Guides Associations (IFMGA) certification. With all the energy of the mountains, “Dawa” feels like a snapshot of a life in the midst of a beautiful transition.

Facing Sunrise  

  • Directed by: Julia Kwan
  • Starring: Azzah
  • Run time: 9 minutes
  • See it if: You’re wondering where you fit in the outdoors; you’re in the process of overcoming.

We join director Julia Kwan on a sunrise hike with Azzah, who once stated, “I don’t know why you would want to climb something to see a view.” Her hiking and a fateful bucket list set her on a new path in life, helping her to fight grief and depression. Now, she sets intentions as she seeks new summits.

The Accidental Environmentalist: Catherine Flowers

  • Directed by: Ellen Esling
  • Starring: Catherine Coleman Flowers
  • Run time: 10 minutes
  • See it if: You're interested in how history affects the present; you want to see how one woman can make a huge difference.

Lowndes County was once known as “Bloody Lowndes.” There, the legacy of African American disenfranchisement came to a head during the Civil Rights era, and the historic Selma to Montgomery Civil Rights March cut across Alabama in 1965. The residue of racial inequity remains, and Catherine Coleman Flowers finds it and fights it every day. In this short film by Ellen Esling, we meet a woman advocating on behalf of justice, and discover where public health and environmentalism intersect.

Perspectives: India Featuring Micayla Gatto

  • Directed by: Scott Secco
  • Starring: Micayla Gatto
  • Run time: 5 minutes
  • See it if: You love vivid visuals; you like riding bikes.

Between the lush colors and the rich soundscape this film that forgoes dialogue manages to speak volumes. Secco’s bold approach to storytelling reveals a sense of place and offers a visceral look at life in a small village in India, relayed partially from the view of mountain biker Micayla Gatto.

Women played a vital role in the 2019 Mountainfilm festival in addition to showcasing films. Here are a few more artists and writers worth checking out:


To catch one of these films at a screening near you, visit the Mountainfilm tour schedule and subscribe to their feed.

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