February 7, 2007

As of today, February 7, 2007, the Mountainfilm in Telluride screening committee has already filed 645 evaluations on 188 films. At an average length of around thirty minutes per film, that adds up to somewhere close to 323 hours of films. And this is only the beginning.

The screening committee this year comprises sixteen members—at nine females and seven males the group has one of the highest girl-to-guy ratios in town—with a variety of backgrounds and experiences. Their names are going to remain a guarded secret for the time being, or at least until the festival schedule has been finalized and they are not in danger of being inundated with pleading letters from desperate filmmakers.

“Mountainfilm inspired me to start making films,” said one well-known local filmmaker and member of the screening committee. “Being on the screening committee is a massive honor and a huge responsibility. Filmmakers spend countless hours on their projects, and even if it’s a brutal 90-minute death by documentary, we owe a fair critique to them.”

Another member, a former local politico, said that one of the strengths of the committee lies in the wide diversity of opinions, and added “they’re all smarter than me.”

That diversity is evident in the members’ talents and experience. As a group, the screening committee members speak fluent French, Spanish, Russian, Nepali, Thai, German, Lithuanian, and some Italian, Norwegian, Tibetan, Japanese, Bahasa, Swahili, as well as Dog, Pig Latin, Politician, BS, American, Canadian and “a little English,” according to the politico.

They’ve lived on six continents (excluding Antarctica), built chairlifts for CTEC, worked as a ghillie (gamekeeper’s assistant) on a 186,000 acre estate in the Scottish Highlands, taught English in rural Thailand and China, been a deckhand on the American Eagle, worked as a set dresser for Dirty Dancing, raised several children, choreographed modern dance, given inoculations in South America, directed a number of award-winning films and worked for Enron. But for these world-wise travelers, Telluride has been their hometown for a total of 188 years (that’s an average of almost 12 years a person).

In some cases, Mountainfilm is the first festival they have worked for. But others are film festival veterans, having been involved in various capacities: filmmaker, operations manager, staff coordinator, volunteer coordinator, festival director, executive director, host and volunteer to name just a few. One member attended the first annual Mountainfilm in Telluride back in 1979 while another member’s first festival was just last year.

Their film interests are widely varied, but they own surprisingly few DVDs. Some like classics like Lawrence of Arabia, while others prefer modern indie films like The Sweet Hereafter, Pecker, or Brokeback Mountain. Their tastes in former Mountainfilm Official Selections runs to the longer documentary features (The Real Dirt on Farmer John, Who Killed the Electric Car?, Murderball) and local documentary shorts (The Hatch).

The screening committee isn’t without its share of controversy, though. When the screening season began in October, rumors were flying about the choice of one former screening committee member, Stash Wislocki, to recuse himself from the group this year. “Stash is still totally on board as Mountainfilm’s producer,” stated the overseer of the committee. “He was just a little tired of not having a social life in March.”

The filmmaker disagreed. “The only way we’re going to get Stash Wislocki back on the screening committee is if people start stepping up the sound quality of their films, or if we give Michael Franti some sort of life achievement award.”

In April when their DVD players have stopped spinning and the dust has settled, this group of talented Telluride locals will have logged thousands of hours in front of their small screens in order to help whittle down an expected 500 Mountainfilm entries to sixty or so chosen films for Mountainfilm’s 29th annual festival, over Memorial Day weekend.

“I think this is shaping up to be a great festival,” the politico declared. “We’ve seen some pretty phenomenal films.”

Posted by Emily Long

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