A simple question. But not a simple answer because it needs to incorporate so many big flavors and subtle essences.

Mountainfilm is a film festival, of course – we bill ourselves as America’s leading independent documentary film festival. But we’re much more.

In addition to screening leading independent documentary films from around the world, the festival includes a full-day symposium on a pressing contemporary issue such as energy (2007), water (2008), food (2009) and the extinction crisis (2010). In addition to films and speakers, the festival includes art exhibits, book signings, student workshops and a forum for other non-profit organizations aligned with Mountainfilm’s mission and programming.

Over and above these things, Mountainfilm is an assembly of people who have come together to see what the human spirit can achieve. Our festival is a place for understanding how another human being’s struggle is also our own; a place for both asking impossible questions and explaining the previously unexplainable; a place to learn, be inspired and to celebrate indomitable spirit.

Our Mission

Mountainfilm is dedicated to educating and inspiring audiences about issues that matter, cultures worth exploring, environments worth preserving and conversations worth sustaining.

The Domino Effect of Mountainfilm?

What emerges from the unique, counter-point profusion of art, ideas, causes and conversations at Mountainfilm is inspiration. That is the overwhelming effect of our programming on our audiences. That inspiration, in turn, leads to action and that action has the power to change lives. Every year we document new examples of this phenomenon that we call The Domino Effect of Mountainfilm.

The History of Mountainfilm

The Mountainfilm festival began in 1979, a time when Telluride was completing its transition from a hard-rock gold and silver mining community to a destination resort and ski town. The new era would usher vital new energy and economic life into Telluride’s breath-taking box-canyon but, as they had been since the days of the Ute Indians, the changeless, rugged mountains would remain the leading attraction.

It was Lito Tejada-Flores, fresh from screening his now classic adventure and mountaineering film, Fitzroy, at the Trento festival in Italy, and Bill Kees, a local climber and avid outdoorsman, who inaugurated Mountainfilm in Telluride. Over three nights, at the historic Sheridan Opera House, they screened a dozen films, all about mountains: mountain sports, mountain cultures, mountain issues. During the days, the audiences took to the mountains themselves, climbing the thirteen and fourteen thousand-foot peaks surrounding Telluride, with skis on their backs, kayaking the San Miguel River, swollen with snowmelt, and engaging in spirited dialogue about the importance of wild places, adventure, art and action.

The first festivals attracted leading names in mountaineering and exploration – Royal Robbins, Yvon Chouinard and David Breashears, among others. With their help, the Memorial Day weekend event quickly became a not-to-be-missed tradition for an ever-expanding circle of pioneers in diverse fields, from athletes to environmentalists and from scientists to poets. Mountains soon became as much a metaphorical theme as a literal one and, as the festival expanded in size and recognition, its programming readily stretched to the leading edges of critical contemporary issues.

In 1999, Mountainfilm significantly grew the scope of its operation with the introduction of Mountainfilm on Tour. By taking festival films to theaters all across the country, and internationally, Mountainfilm accessed large and diverse new audiences that would otherwise have had no window into the filmmakers’ unique and important work.

Today, the Mountainfilm festival occupies dozens of venues in Telluride and Mountain Village and fills the two towns with inspiring thinkers and doers. In addition to showcasing leading independent films and filmmakers, the festival now includes symposia and panels, gallery exhibits of art and photography, book-signings, breakfast talks, student programs, music and street parties. The essential combination that first set the festival apart, though – friends, adventure, passion and powerful ideas – remains firmly intact.