Original Thinkers

David Holbrooke addresses patrons and passholders at the 2018 Original Thinkers festival. (Courtesy photo)

“What you’re holding in your hands is a year’s worth of work, that’s the first one we’ve pulled out of the box,” David Holbrooke said last week outside of Ghost Town as he showed off the Original Thinkers program.

It’s the penultimate week before the second annual Original Thinkers Festival, and there’s a buzz amongst festival staff, most of whom have worked for a variety of festivals in Telluride and around the country. They’re true pros at running a well-thought-out festival — the proof is in the pudding, or in this case, the freshly printed programs.

“That energy is really exciting,” Holbrooke said.

Original Thinkers was founded last year as a festival intersecting storytelling, ideas and film and bringing together big thinkers from all walks of life for thoughtful, intentional conversations and events.

The festival starts Thursday and runs through Sunday, Oct. 6, with many events centered in Mountain Village. New this year, the festival will bring events out to Deep Creek Mine and hold screenings at the Nugget Theater throughout the weekend.

There are 10 focused shows at the Telluride Conference Center with different ithemes and a variety of guests. Guests include filmmakers, journalists, Broadway performers, DJs, politicians, rappers, doctors, human rights activists, chefs, artists, musicians and more.

“Next week the intellectual firepower that’s going to come into this valley is insane,” Holbrooke said. “It’s extraordinary.”

Festival Coordinator Sam Shriver instantly rattles off the three guests he’s  most excited to see: Bruce Franks Jr., Ruthie Lindsey and Brenda Ann Kenneally.


Franks is a former Missouri state representative and a battle rapper who has dedicated his life to fight gun violence since the loss of his little brother. He will speak at Show 6, titled “Change Is Hard,” where he and seven other speakers will analyze societal change. The film “St. Louis Super Man” tells Franks’ story and will screen as part of the program, scheduled for 1:30 p.m. on Saturday of the festival.

Lindsey, on the other hand, will be part of Show 1, titled “A Tortoise’s Journey.” She barely survived being hit by an ambulance at age 17, and through her remarkable recovery, she decided to dedicate her life to healing and sharing her story. The show, scheduled for Thursday at 5 p.m., will kick off the festival by looking at the power of personal evolution and self-discovery.

Kenneally’s book, “Upstate Girls,” photographs tough young women. She will be a part of Show 5, “Unburiny Shame,” and will speak about the complexities of shame that’s found in both the national and systemic level here in the United States. That show will be at 10 a.m. on Saturday.

“She is a physical and emotional presence,” Shriver said, “She just tells you exactly how she feels. She’s talking about the realest stuff.”

And that’s just skimming the surface of the original thinkers flocking to Telluride this week. A full festival schedule can be found online at originalthinkers.com and festival programs will be available at the festival headquarters off of Heritage Plaza in Mountain Village.

In a new move that Holbrooke is particularly excited about, Show 7 “Unearthing Culture,” will be held at Deep Creek Mine in collaboration with Deep Creek Experimental led by local artist Anton Viditz Ward.

“Our collaboration with them is really special,” Holbrooke said. “Anton is a genus. What he has built out there with his team is kind of mind-blowing.”

A full festival pass will grant access into the Telluride Conference Center for each show and the Nugget for smaller screenings. But for folks unable to commit to a full festival pass, individual show tickets will be for sale once passholders are accommodated; single-day tickets will be for sale this week as well.

There are also a number of free events held in Mountain Village at the Brainstorm Stage in Heritage Plaza, including a Downlow storytelling performance in conjunction with Telluride Theatre, panels, parties and more.

“What we’re trying to do with this festival is make it accessible to anybody,” Holbrooke said. “Both with the overall program and individual programs. You don’t have to have a Ph.D to get this. You just have to be engaged in the world and ready to say, wait, there’s a giant world out there and we’re lucky to live here.”

The festival was co-founded by Holbrooke, Gabriel Lifton-Zoline and Nancy Schafer of the Tribeca Film Festival.

“I think that Telluride has incredible history of interesting and original thinking from L.L. Nunn to Chuck Kroger and the Via Ferrata, and festivals are a huge part of our culture and how we disseminate culture here,” Lifton-Zoline said. “We get to have some of the world’s most creative interesting thinkers here disseminating information.”