Divers fearlessly exploring deep ocean waters, Bangladeshi farmers coping with rising sea levels and rock climbers hanging precariously from narrow ledges. These scenes and more are appearing in select titles at this year’s Flagstaff Mountain Film Festival.
The all-volunteer-run event brings to town a diverse selection of social, cultural, environmental and outdoor-adventure films showing “a reality that highlights the beauty of our planet and noble efforts to safeguard it; a reality where struggle and hardship are a trail to empowerment; a reality that drops our jaws and fills us with hope,” according to the festival planners.
“We are very lucky to live in a city with so many creative people, that it makes curating a multi-location event like this very easy,” said Maria Campbell, vice president on the festival’s board of directors. “We have a film jury made up of the board of directors, local artists, outdoor enthusiasts, a professor of anthropology and a filmmaker, all of various ages. The fact that we all come from different walks of life means we all have a passion for many different things, and that helps us really curate a festival, we feel, that reaches all demographics in the city.”
The 16th annual festival kicks off Thursday, Feb. 15, and runs through Sunday, Feb. 18, across 10 venues. Visit www.flagstaffmountainfilms.org to see the full program with times for film showings, artist talks and other special events.
When the festival debuted in 2003, it consisted of two days of documentary film screenings at the Orpheum Theater. By 2005 though, it had expanded to cover four days and nights of films and then, to celebrate a decade of advocacy and celebrations of nature, organizers decided to further expand the festival offerings with a number of special events at other venues offered to the public for free thanks to support from local businesses.
One of this year’s special events, Uranium: Ignominious Legacy on the Colorado Plateau, held at Firecreek Coffee Company Saturday from 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m., will feature an art show curated by documentary photographer Amy Martin, a panel of tribal experts invited by counselor and activist Davona Blackhorse and two films by Justin Clifton: “Too Precious to Mine,” which explores the impact abandoned mines in the Grand Canyon could have on the Havasupai tribe, and “Half-Life: The Story of America’s Last Uranium Mill,” which takes an in-depth look at the active White Mesa Uranium Mill in southern Utah.
“My films will show, but it’s not about me,” Clifton said. “It’s about the people in those stories and their lived experiences. That’s where the true emotion lies in all this.”
The panel will include Leona Morgan, Carletta Tilousi, Tommy Rock and Jerrel Singer discussing ways in which they’ve been affected by mining on the Navajo Nation and the subsequent nuclear bomb testing which began in the 1950s.
“My father passed away in ‘97,” Singer said. “He was a Downwinder, that’s what they call all the people living right there in the Grey Mountain, Cameron area [downwind of nuclear testing sites] and I came from a big family. I probably had about 14 aunts and uncles and there are only four left right now.”
“As much as coal is dead, uranium should be dead now,” said Sarana Riggs, Grand Canyon Program Manager with the Grand Canyon Trust. “Once it’s out of the ground there’s no way to do anything about it. It’s active. It’s alive. It’s going to be here way after I’m gone.”
Many of the pieces in the art show came from the Coconino Center for the Art’s in-depth exhibit Hope + Trauma in a Poisoned Land, which was on display August through October of last year, and Singer contributed three new paintings for this new exhibit which detail aspects of his life growing up in Cameron and surrounded by abandoned uranium mines.
Other events of four-day festival will include a tribute to late Glen Canyon activist Katie Lee, a look at Flagstaff’s extensive mountain biking trails and more local and national projects.
A new approach to this year’s event that organizers are excited about is to make it the first single-use, plastic-free festival. The board partnered with Azulita Project, a nonprofit dedicated to defending the oceans against plastic pollution, which will be tabling at each event to offer advice and ‘plastic-free kits’ for purchase. Attendees are encouraged to bring their own reusable 16-ounce cup or bottle to each event, although there will be Eco-Products compostable alternatives available.
“Small changes on a local basis can make a huge impact at a global level, and we as consumers must start to take responsibility, and realize that it starts with us,” reads a note on the festival's website.
“With special guests such as writer and activist Craig Childs and Diné poet Rowie Shebala to name a few, we aim to enlighten audiences and try to motivate individuals to bring about change for a better self and world through film, art and the sharing of ideas,” Campbell said.