It was a classic Memorial Day weekend in Telluride: crisp blue skies beckoned towards trails through freshly blooming aspen groves, strangers became friends over thoughtful conversations and films weaved new stories into the minds of viewers all across town. After a year of repose during the coronavirus pandemic, Mountainfilm once more hosted a weekend of films and events, furthering the fest’s essential mission to “inspire audiences to create a better world.”
“It felt like a sacred space,” said festival director Suzan Beraza of the festival weekend in a press release. “The numbers were different from what we’re used to, but there was an intimacy and the ability to have real, in-depth conversations. It was a gift.”
On Monday, organizers announced the festival’s award winners, with accolades honoring the best feature and short as well as qualities like adventurous spirit and social impact. Along with the recognition for their stand-out work, recipients received a cash award to support future work.
“A big part of Mountainfilm’s mission is filmmaker support,” said Beraza. “The comment that we got from the awards juries is that the caliber of films was extremely high and they had a difficult deliberation process.”
“Jacinta,” directed by filmmaker Jessica Earnshaw, took home the best documentary feature award for its intimate portrait of a family caught in a multi-generational cycle of addiction, incarceration and trauma. Over the course of three and a half years, Earnshaw created a window into the lives of a mother and a daughter as they navigate incarceration, addiction, crime, rehab and relapse all underwritten by a deep familial love and a history of trauma.
Winning best documentary feature, for Earnshaw, was “emotional and unexpected,” and she immediately reached out to Jacinta to tell her how deeply her story had spoken to the jury and to audiences at the festival.
“One woman said that she didn’t think she’d ever be able to forget this film for her whole life,” recalled Earnshaw of the feedback one viewer shared with her on a sidewalk in Telluride after the screening, calling it “just the best compliment.”
“I think we rarely see stories like Jacinta’s from the inside and how incarceration and addiction can affect families generationally,” she said. “There’s a lot of judgement and shame around these topics. These are incredibly strong and smart women. I hope the film can help reframe how people see the Jacintas of the world.”
Those moved by the film and Jacinta’s story, she noted, can join in the film’s accompanying social impact campaign by following @jacintafilm on Instagram.
Also in the line-up of award winning films was “Since You Arrived, My Heart Stopped Belonging to Me,” directed by Erin Semine Kökdil. Winner of the best short film award, the film follows a group of Central American mothers frantically combing the streets of Mexico for their missing children. Meanwhile, the Charlie Fowler Best Adventure Film award went to “After Antarctica,” by Tasha Van Zandt. In the film, 75-year-old adventurer Will Steger sets out on a solo expedition in the Arctic Circle, 30 years after his traverse of Antarctica in 1989 aimed to protect the continent from exploitation.
“The Ants and the Grasshopper,” directed by Raj Patel and Zak Piper, won the Moving Mountains award for its dedication to social justice and impact. The film tells the story of two women from a drought-threatened village in Malawi, both innovators in farming and cooking techniques advantageous in a changing environment. The pair embarks on a tour of the US, hoping to convince American climate change skeptics as they journey to Midwestern farms and urban food cooperatives.
Director Whitney Skauge of the film “The Beauty President” was honored with the Women in Film award for her portrayal of 1992 write-in presidential candidate Joan Jett Blakk, an openly queer drag queen who promised to make America “more fabulous, more fruitful and more glamorous.” In a conversation with the male activist behind Joan, Terence Alan Smith, the film explores his unorthodox bid to shine a light on LBGTQ+ rights and the AIDS crisis.
Finally, the Vimeo Staff Pick was awarded to Jospehine Anderson’s “On Falling,” a short that examines the acceptance of risk in extreme sports through the lens of three female pro mountain bike riders. Anderson admits that she is too afraid to ride a mountain bike, so she turns to the pros to dive into the question: Why do they do it?
While in previous years, the Audience Choice and the Student Choice awards were announced on Memorial Day, this year the final two awards will be announced at the conclusion of Mountainfilm Online, which runs from May 31 through June 6. Passes for the virtual fest are still available online for those who missed any of these films during the in-person festival.