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Some of our special guests this year are hailing all the way from Scandinavia: the Baffin Babes. If you’re not familiar with these adventurous ladies, the Baffin Babes are four Scandinavian women who, in 2009, skied 1,200 kilometers across Baffin Island in the Canadian Arctic. Their adventure faced them with everything from 40 below weather to hanging with polar bears. We caught up  with Baffin Babe Emma Simonsson to learn more.

What inspired you to put together this expedition?

Our love and passion for the outdoors, and a dream of living among the nature for a longer time. Also the attraction of adventure, where you seek challenges and push your own limits.

What was the hardest part of the expedition? What was the most rewarding?

The hardest day was actually the last day, when we all realized it was over. It was such a big sorrow, none of us wanted it to be over, and we moved in slow motion trying to make the day longer. But of course there were hard parts while out as well, for example handling the extreme cold temperatures, and when we skied over a glacier area and big crevasses opened up in all directions in front of us, and the visibility were poor.  Most rewarding was the feeling of freedom that I get when I’m out for such a long time, the feeling of being so present in what’s now, so alive.  I get in to a meditative flow while skiing and then you get to share it all with your best friends, that’s amazing! And some of the highlights were definitely bathing in a seal hole, climbing broad peaks and having a polar bear just 30 meters away!

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The Pine Ride Indian Reservation in South Dakota is home of the Lakota Sioux and has been called “ground zero” for Native American Issues.

The grim statistics on reservations like Pine Ridge today are the equivalent to that of a 3rd world country, revealing the legacy of colonization and treaty violations. Unemployment on the Reservation fluctuates between 80-90%. Many are homeless, and those with homes are packed into rotting buildings with up to 5 families. More than 90% of the population lives below the federal poverty line. The life expectancy for men is 47 years old — roughly the same as Afghanistan and Somalia.

Photojournalist Aaron Huey has spent the last six years uncovering the story of this relatively undocumented social injustice. We’re honored to have Huey attend this year’s festival as a special guest.

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The Denver Art Museum is hosting Streets of Afghanistan this Thursday, April 28, in an effort to connect communities and cultures in a country that has endured nearly four decades of conflict. The exhibit is a life-size exhibition that recreates the streets of Kabul and the rural roads of Afghanistan, including stunning portraits of the people who live there.

Proceeds from the exhibition, created by Mountain2Mountain (M2M), a Colorado-based nonprofit, will support programs including girls’ education, efforts to help imprisoned women and children and support for the Afghan youth movement. We are honored to welcome Shannon Galpin, the founder of M2M, as a special guest to the Mountainfilm Festival this year.

When: April 28, 2011

Where: Denver Art Museum — 100 West 14th Avenue Parkway

Earlier this month, over 10,000 climate activists convereged on Washington D.C. for Powershift 2011, national youth climate summit.

Bill McKibben and Tim DeChristopher were both on hand with powerful speeches.

You can catch both McKibben and DeChristopher as special guests at this year’s festival.

Drew Ludwig, a photographer and expedition leader, is one of our special guests this year, presenting an exhibit of photos shot last summer during a solo walk of 120 miles from the Ninth Ward of New Orleans to the Gulf of Mexico in Louisiana.

What Drew says about his show:

During August of 2010, I walked 120 miles from the Ninth Ward of New Orleans to the Gulf Of Mexico in Louisiana. It was the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and the oil spill in the Gulf was about to be capped.

I came to help. I came to work. I held lofty goals of an activist, and I wanted to use my hands. What transpired was far more etherial and bordering upon obscurity. I walked, I listened and I came to pick up the work gloves of others rather than my own.

I believe gloves connect a hand with purpose and as I walked, I began to see the story of Louisiana between the marks, the scars and the holes of the discarded gloves I found beside the highway. I became a collector of these gloves.

My eye quickly turned to the strangers I met along those roads; towards the helping hands that invited me into their homes and fed me after those twelve hour days of walking. These are the faces that came to gaze into my camera, and it was their gloves that I carried across the state of Louisiana.

The show will be a sampling of the gloves and photos I collected along the way.

On the one year anniversary of the BP oil spill, his experiences bring him back to thinking about the people of the region:

On the eve of the anniversary I am thinking about the people I met along the way. I am wondering if they found that place to live, upped their quotas, found their water’s clean and had a good football season? I am lucky enough to call a few Louisianan locals friends and I am sending them all my best on a somber day.

We came across Radiohead’s music video for All I Need this week. If you haven’t seen it, it’s worth a watch.

A poignant video that was made in partnership with MTV’s EXIT (End Exploitation and Trafficking) campaign “to create a clip that raises awareness of issues of forced labor and abuse around the world.”

“It’s an interesting thing, because if you are in the West, it’s a luxury to be able to talk about the importance of human rights for everybody, but yet in the East, or the poorer countries where slave labor is going on, if you talk to certain companies, it seems that it’s much more important that they’re on some sort of economic ladder, and somehow the rights of the workers are secondary to economic growth, and that I find a very peculiar logic, and I think that’s as much about the power of the companies and the profits they’re making as it is of any moral stance. So it would be useful when the West talks about human rights, they actually consider countries where, for a lot of workers, it’s not really on the agenda yet,” Thom Yorke said in an interview with MTV when the video was released.

Modern day slavery is not a new issue at Mountainfilm; author and anti-slavery activist Ben Skinner is a regular at the festival. This year he will talk specifically about how our audience can get involved in the fight to stop modern-day slavery.

To learn more about slavery and what you can do to take action, visit Free The Slaves.

As part of this year’s festival, we’re happy to welcome Maria Gunnoe, a lifelong resident of coal country in West Virginia who fights against the crucial issue of mountaintop removal mining and valley fill operations. She was a recipient of the Goldman Environmental Prize in 2009, and she has been featured in numerous documentaries on the topic.

What can you do about mountaintop removal mining? iLoveMountains.org is an excellent resource for staying up to date on the issue of mountaintop removal. Their current action asks for people to call their Representatives and ask them to stop big coal from dumping toxic mining waste into the streams of Appalachia.

From ilovemountains.org:

Please call your Representative today and ask them to become a cosponsor of The Clean Water Protection Act.

This bill will protect our headwater streams where our rivers–such as the Mississippi and the Ohio–are born. Over 2,000 miles of streams have already been buried and polluted. But we can stop this.

With your help, supporters of the Appalachian mountains will make thousands of calls, and make a difference in protecting our mountains forever.

To take action, click here.

Image: iLoveMountains.org

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