Three-day event includes nearly 40 films, food, music
There is something undeniably magical about sitting under the stars and watching a movie. And when the film is set in an outdoor environment, that magical experience is only enhanced, uniting the viewer and the film in a shared love of the great wild world around us.
It is this unique opportunity — to nestle in a blanket and camp chair in the shadow of Goat Peak in Mazama, combined with the intriguing line-up of feature-length and short films about outdoor adventure, the environment and social issues — that brings audiences back to Mountainfilm on Tour: Mazama year after year.
Mountainfilm on Tour: Mazama, now in its eighth year in the Methow Valley, is hosted by North Cascades Mountain Hostel and the Methow Film Collective. Spanning three days from Friday through Sunday (Aug. 30-Sept. ), the festival presents five showings of nearly 40 films, ranging from Friday night’s feature length “Into the Canyon,” which chronicles a 750-mile through-hike of the Grand Canyon, to Saturday and Sunday matinees screening short films, to Sunday’s kids program, to three full evenings of plein aire viewing under the waning summer skies.
Paul Smotherman, owner of North Cascades Mountain Hostel and founder/director of the Methow Film Collective, brought Mountainfilm on Tour to the valley in 2012. “I was looking for touring film fests that we at the hostel could host as one of our annual events,” he says. Of all the events the hostel has presented, “[Mountainfilm] is the last man standing; it seems to be the event that has made the best foothold in the valley.”
Variety of topics
Smotherman is passionate about Mountainfilm because of “the variety of topics explored.” To him, “Mountainfilm is so much more than adventure film. There are films that explore environmental issues, social issues, and what people are doing to take action. There are human interest stories.”
There are stories happening all over the world every day, says Smotherman, and when they’re captured on film, especially with vibrant footage, “I love getting a small glimpse into those worlds.”
It’s the adventure films, however, that are the big draw of the festival and which comprise the bulk of the showings each year. “Mountainfilm has been real experts in curating some of the best adventure films out there: stories with substance, interesting side stories, well-developed and entertaining characters and of course amazing footage of people doing rad stuff in rad places,” Smotherman says.
Smotherman is pulled toward adventure films, environmental films and social action films because they mirror the themes in the life he has chosen to lead. “I have spent the bulk of my adult life exploring the world through my work and recreational pursuits,” he says. “I was a Peace Corp volunteer in Papua New Guinea, worked at both poles in Antarctica and Greenland, and traveled and worked as an outdoor educator and wildlife biologist throughout the country and the world.”
Smotherman says that it has always been difficult to describe his experiences to others. Through Mountainfilm, he has been able to communicate some of the experiences he’s had and the way he feels about those moments. “[Mountainfilm brings] my experiences to life like I have never been able to.” And for Smotherman, it is this “sharing important topics of the human struggle” that is critical to fully understanding and appreciating the films.
More than movies
The film festival itself is far more than just an opportunity to see some movies. It features an international grill before the evening showings, as well as a beer and wine garden. The local funky dance band the Bitterroot Beets will be playing at 6 p.m. on Saturday night. And one of the producers of the short film “The Mystery of Now” — which is the story of an artist and community activist working through the skateboard community on the Apache reservation to empower youth through art, community and culture — will be present to introduce the film and answer questions about it afterwards. It’s truly a festival: food and drink, music, movies and the ensuing community conversations that are the hallmark of meaningful films.
It is these conversations, and the actions they may inspire, that Smotherman finds uplifting. “Whether we engage ourselves more politically, or become more environmentally aware, or act on behalf of our ecological neighborhood, or explore the world discovering places of wonder and grandeur by pushing ourselves physically through the landscape by skis, bikes, boat or on foot, these films let me know what is possible when you put your mind to it,” Smotherman says. “They leave me wanting to do more and take advantage of my time in this world.”
One of the actions Smotherman has been inspired to initiate is the use of the film festival to raise money for the Methow Chapter of the Washington Climbers Coalition, which, he says, “has been making great strides in improving infrastructure at [Mazama’s] Fun Rock and mitigating the impacts of the increased climbing traffic in the valley.”
Mountainfilm on Tour: Mazama certainly hasn’t been without its challenges. “The environmental factors have always been an interesting component to maneuver,” says Smotherman, referring to the wind, rain, heat and, more recently, fire and smoke that can jeopardize the outdoor experience. “Last year was our closest call. The smoke was so thick in Mazama, we contemplated masks. People had been cooped up for weeks. Then the weather came in. It literally rained up until an hour before the film fest, the weather broke, the grass dried and it turned into the most starry beautiful nights we had experienced in months,” he says. “It was like it was meant to happen.”
The logistics of the festival have become easier for Smotherman to navigate, but he and the other festival organizers are still experimenting with the details of timing, venue, film length and other considerations. This year’s Labor Day weekend date will attempt to “capture crowds and expand the scope of the festival to encompass specifically themed film blocks,” he says. “We also realized our original Saturday program often times went too late into the night and cold temps and fatigue began to set in. This year’s programs are shorter, more theme-focused, and cover a broader range of overall films.”
The three-day length of the film festival this year is also a bit of an experiment, testing the waters for a stand-alone film festival, that would “attract viewers from outside of the valley for the festival itself, instead of a side-note in their weekend plans,” says Smotherman. To this end, future Mountainfilm on Tour festivals in Mazama will “bring more films, incorporate multiple venues throughout the valley, intertwine space for outdoor activities, provide opportunities for more guest speakers and workshops, and host the works of regional amateur filmmakers,” says Smotherman. “We hope all of this will attract more viewers, more sponsors and, we hope, more revenue.” Which, of course, is necessary for the survival of the film festival over the long term.
For now, however, Smotherman and the Methow Film Collective are simply “just stoked to bring an event like this to the valley.” In particular, Smotherman is looking forward to seeing Friday’s feature film, “Into the Canyon,” saying “The lead characters are pretty hilarious, the film is beautifully edited, showing the Grand Canyon like you’ve never seen before. [It’s] and amazing journey through a surreal landscape.”
“Into the Canyon” also addresses a proposed commercial resort that would be built at the bottom of the canyon, says Smotherman, “with gondolas serving as the transport.” It is, perhaps, either great poetic irony or simple serendipity that “Into the Canyon” will be screened in almost exactly the spot where the proposed Early Winters ski resort would have been built in the 1970s, were it not for the dedication and passion of valley residents committed to the protection and preservation of a magical place, a way of life, and a community united by a landscape. Art does indeed sometimes imitate life.
A full lineup
North Cascades Mountain Hostel and Methow Film Collective will host Mountainfilm on Tour at the Mazama Ranch House, Friday-Sunday (Aug.30-Sept. 1), offering a total of five shows over three days.
• On Friday, a feature-length film, “Into the Canyon” featuring Peter McBride will be shown at 8 p.m. Cost is $15 for adults and $10 for ages 18 and younger.
• On Saturday, there will be an afternoon program of nine short films, starting at 3 p.m. Cost is $15 for adults and $10 for ages 18 and younger. Local band the Bitterroot Beets will play at 6 p.m. An evening program of 10 short films begins at 8 p.m. Cost for the evening session is $20 for adults and $15 for ages 18 and younger.
A full Saturday pass will be available for $30 for adults and $20 for ages 18 and younger.
• Kids will be the focus of the Sunday matinee at 3 p.m., with a collection of eight short films culled from the “Kidz Kino” program at the Mountainfilm festival. Cost is $12 for adults and $8 for ages 18 and younger. An evening program of 10 short films begins at 8 p.m. Cost is $15 for adults and $8 for ages 18 and younger.
A full weekend pass is available for $60 for adults and $48 for ages 18 and younger. Food and drinks will be available for purchase each evening.
For full information, visit www.mountainfilm.org/tour/stops/mountainfilm-on-tour-mazama-wa-2019.