Mountainfilm is one of the oldest and most well-regarded documentary film festivals in the United States. Calling Telluride, Colorado, home for 45 years, it highlights both shorts and features that focus on humanitarian issues, environmental crises, and adventure in the outdoors. This past Memorial Day weekend, I traveled to the Rocky Mountain state to experience the festival in person. However, you can watch several of these powerful films from anywhere, as many are free and available to the public via YouTube and Vimeo. Sometimes lighthearted, mostly outdoor-centered, and always inspirational, here are ten of my favorite 2023 Mountainfilm official selections that you can watch right now.
From The Shadow Of A Mountain
Many people turn to sports to find healing and redemption. The same is true for Markelle Taylor, who found running after he was incarcerated in San Quentin. Now a free man, he runs across Mount Tamalpais, the mountain that served as his beacon of hope while he was in prison. This compelling story is paired with artful Super 8 and black-and-white shots to give the film a moody, old-school feel.
Leo & Chester
Reaching a crossroads in his life, Leo Downey ventured into the wilderness to seek answers. Upon his return to civilization, he left his home in California and moved to British Columbia, Canada to become a buffalo rancher. Follow along as Leo faces the challenges of living in the North and earning the acceptance of his herd.
Since a young age, Nouria Newman was a kayaking superstar. From earning a spot on the French national team to medaling at the ICF Canoe Slalom World Championships, it seemed like she was on the fast track to a long and prosperous career. However, intense pressure, disillusionment with the world of slalom kayaking, and a love for wild spaces force her to reevaluate her priorities. Throughout the film, Nouria shares her tumultuous relationship with kayaking and her quest to become the first woman to run a 100-foot waterfall.
Miles To Go
Perry Cohen is a trail runner, trans advocate, and the founder of The Venture Out Project. In response to the recent spike in anti-LGBTQ+ bills throughout the United States, he gathered fellow male-identifying trans runners to foster community and increase queer visibility in the outdoors. As a team, they are competing in races across the country where trans rights are currently under attack. This powerful film showcases their journey as they find freedom in the outdoors and build bridges across political and cultural divides.
Light Beams For Helena
Struggling with chronic depression and on the brink of suicide, Helena Bourdillon finds peace and stillness in free diving. This film explores the realities of living with mental illness, as well as how Helena’s underwater existence has reshaped her view on life and joy. It’s a stunningly beautiful film, both in its subject matter and in the ethereal subaquatic visuals.
The Nine Wheels
After Laetitia is diagnosed with a serious neurodegenerative disease, the Schneeberger family’s life is turned on its head. Faced with their new reality, they decide to sell their house and move into a motorhome full-time, traveling to bike parks all over Europe while her children Emric and Raoul can hone their skills. Ultimately, this film is about unwavering love, the pursuit of adventure, and living life to its fullest.
Reclaim Your Water: Natasha Smith
Natasha Smith is not afraid of chasing her passions, even if they go against societal expectations. With Ebony Beach Club, she is helping to diversify the beaches of Southern California and the sport of surfing. This film is a joyful reminder of the importance of spreading love and living your life without limits.
Speed of Sound
After losing most of her sight at age 12, skier Carina Edlinger was faced with the challenge of navigating life in the dark. However, despite her disability, she has become a self-proclaimed adrenaline junkie and a world-class athlete, winning gold at the 2022 Winter Paralympics in Beijing. This film highlights Carina’s story and is shot and edited to capture the fast-paced and fearless way she lives her life.
To Be Frank
73-year-old Frank Paine is a larger-than-life character who has called the South Bay surf home for 58 years. Nicknamed “The Professor”, this mustached local legend shares his relationship with surfing and the community that he’s fostered. Frank’s playful spirit, alluring charm, genuine honesty, and beautiful outlook on life are what makes this film truly special.
Paddle Tribal Waters
The largest dam removal project in the world is set for completion along the Klamath River in 2024. The film follows indigenous youth as they participate in Paddle Tribal Waters, learning the skills needed to complete a first descent of the river and advocate for the land. It’s both an aesthetically pleasing and deeply hopeful work of art.
Telluride is located about six hours outside of Denver in the western San Juan Mountains. At nearly 9,000 feet above sea level, this mining-town-turned-alpine playground is a haven for mountain lovers of all kinds. In the winter, it’s known for its world-class skiing and snowboarding. And when the temperature begins to rise, there are several hiking and biking trails nearby for visitors to enjoy. During the spring and summer, it also hosts several iconic festivals, including Mountainfilm, the Telluride Bluegrass Festival, and the Telluride Film Festival. This quaint mountain town is the perfect mix of the outdoors, art, and culture.