David Holbrooke

Former Mountainfilm festival director David Holbrooke is launching a new venture in October: the Original Thinkers festival. (Photo by Rob Story/Telluride Daily Planet)

David Holbrooke is not one to masticate sour grapes. Still, he remains stung after being let go last July from Mountainfilm, where he served as festival director for 10 years. 

“I always thought that — given the job I had done, building Mountainfilm to what it became — I would leave on my own terms,” he said. “I stand tall knowing what I accomplished. For it to end so wrongly was heartbreaking.” 

His dismissal, Holbrooke said, “was challenging for me, challenging for my family. It was supremely unjust and there are times I still grapple with it. But spring is a time of renewal, and I’m excited to move on.” 

Hence, Holbrooke’s new venture: the Original Thinkers festival. 

Original Thinkers, he said, “is a festival built around the idea of original thinking, of artists, speakers and films. The festival will feature scientists, activists and all sorts of people I feel embody original thinking.” 

Does Telluride really need another festival? 

Not in summer it doesn’t. Which partly explains why Holbrooke is holding his festival the first weekend of October, “when the gondola and farmers market are still running, but Telluride could use a few more visitors (at least when Neil Young isn’t playing). I’ll tell attendees: ‘Come experience some brain food during a gorgeous time of year in Southwest Colorado.’” 

Original thinking has danced across Holbrooke’s brainpan for years: “I actually bought originalthinkers.com in 2005,” he said. “I believe in the power of it and started making films of original thinkers. I’d always thought about original thinking from a film perspective, but after a decade of great festival experiences here, I realized it applies more to a festival.” 

The festival’s website describes it as “art, ideas, film, enlightening, engaging, entertaining, fresh, fun, festive, insightful, intimate, instigating, risky, relaxed and restorative.” It maintains: “Original Thinkers are iconoclasts, outliers, visionaries, bold, brilliant, brash, deep, diverse, disruptive, powerful, prescient, passionate, creators, creative and creating.” 

As such, said Holbrooke, “Telluride has always been a place for original thinkers, and that’s why I’m excited to bring this here.”

The set-up of Holbrooke’s new festival will vary greatly from his old one. 

“I go to many festivals, and I leave lots of them bedraggled,” he said. “There’s always a frenzy to catch everything and to rush from a Q&A to get in line for the next film. At Original Thinkers, the word ‘queuing’ will be banned.”

Original Thinkers will be held at a single venue, the Telluride Conference Center in Mountain Village, he explained. 

“It’ll be simple: If you buy a pass, you’ll get to see anything you wish. That way, we eliminate all the stress and FOMO (fear of missing out), and everybody has a good time.”  

While Holbrooke is hesitant to discuss so far in advance the festival lineup, he said about half the content is confirmed. 

“Films should account for approximately 60 percent of the schedule and speakers 40 percent. The idea is to open Thursday (Oct. 4) with some event that I have yet to figure out, and then continue through the weekend with programming for passholders, along with events that are free to the public. I sometimes describe it as TED, with documentaries.”  

Holbrooke hopes attendees will experience the region’s beautiful Indian Summer weather and maybe “get out on a Via Ferrata. After all, if anyone was an original thinker it was (Via Ferrata creator) Chuck Kroeger.”  

He said the speakers and filmmakers will be a mix of “new names and old names. I want people to leave saying, ‘That was really smart, that was really fun, I learned a lot and had a good time.’”  

Greatly helping the admittedly disorganized Holbrooke with Original Thinkers is Nancy Shafer, who created and operated the SXSW Film Festival for eight years before running Tribeca Film Festival for 11 years — from its inception through 2012. 

Now that Holbrooke — who’s instantly recognizable around town for his bird-nest beard, 6-foot-6-inch height and size 13 clown-shoe feet — has his spring free, he’ll help operate the EarthxFilm festival in Dallas in April, and serve as the commencement speaker at the Telluride High School Class of 2018 graduation in June. 

Still, he’ll spend most of the shoulder season working on Original Thinkers. 

“I’m 52, and I’m happy to start a new thing for myself. This will be an LLC, as I’m kind of burned out on working for nonprofits. (Holbrooke’s wife) Sarah’s at the Pinhead Institute, of course, and one nonprofit worker in the family is enough.” 

Holbrooke plans to sell 350 to 400 passes for the Conference Center venue, which can seat 500. Early bird local passes for Original Thinkers will go on sale in May. For more details, visit originalthinkers.com.