Is it possible that a 30-minute film can have an impact on your life?

Mountainfilm 2024 kicked off yesterday with a free party at Smugglers Brew Pub to celebrate Woodwell Climate Research Center and a free screening of nine short films, “Local Legends and Steep Thrills Shorts” at the Town Park (Base Camp). As you plan your Mountainfilm adventure, I hope you pencil in time for more than films. The program is phenomenal, as it is every year, but there are also talks, seminars and even an Earth-themed disco!

Part of the transformative nature of attending a festival is the connections you can make. You can meet interesting people standing in line waiting for a film, while you’re enjoying an ice cream in the sun at the Ice Cream Social or riding the gondola discussing the amazing program you just experienced. The most important thing to remember is to be open to discovery.

I recommend trying to see a Shorts Program, an Outdoor Adventure film and a documentary. One great way to experience the festival is to pick a venue and see all the films that screen there. Or create chunks of time to experience different aspects of the festival: go to a Coffee Talk, follow that with a Shorts Program, then go have a coffee and talk to fellow festival goers. Listen for interesting suggestions from people you meet and be open to going to programs knowing nothing about the subject matter.

I’m excited to watch the features “Between the Mountain and the Sky,” “A Good Wolf,” “One with the Whale,” “Ashima,” and “We Can Be Heroes.” 

My personal favorites have always been the Shorts Programs. It takes incredible skill to distill a story down to its core elements and still retain that sense of wonder or urgency that can move or inspire an audience. There are some incredible shorts every year and this Mountainfilm program is packed with exceptional selections.

You may find something that resonates with you on a deeply personal level if you’re open to discovery. I was amazed and moved while watching my first short film. I found so many elements of the story connected with my life that I wanted to watch the film a second time right away. “A Symphony of Tiny Stars” is a 30-minute film in the Originals Shorts Program. 

As a California native who was blessed to grow up in the Bay Area, I’ve always admired those that champion environmental causes. I don’t remember ever hearing about the subject of this eye-opening documentary, John Francis. Directors Dominic and Nadia Gill weave together archival footage, interviews and news footage to present this evocative tale of one man’s quiet crusade. Known as the Planetwalker, Francis, who was from Philadelphia, walked across the United States and sailed all over the world. 

Silent for 17 years, Francis founded Planetwalk, a nonprofit environmental awareness organization. He earned a B.S. degree from Southern Oregon State College, a masters in environmental studies from the University of Montana-Missoula, and a PhD in land resources from the Gaylord Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He even taught college classes while remaining silent. 

Communicating through his own form of sign language and his banjo music, Dr. Francis went on to become a well-known environmentalist with a personal mission to spread kindness. Dr. Francis refers to kindness as “the special sauce” and his words of wisdom are simple and profound. 

You can watch this brilliant short, “A Symphony of Tiny Stars” on Saturday, May 25, at 5:45 p.m. at the Sheridan Opera House, or on Sunday, May 26, at 1 p.m. at the Palm Theatre. If we’re lucky, it’ll also be added to the TBA section on Monday. The filmmakers and Dr. Francis will be in attendance.

Drinks with Films Rating: 4 glasses of crystal-clear water from a stream after a long hot day of trekking (out of 5)

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