Our first festival
Mountainfilm in Telluride was started in 1979 by locals Bill Kees and Lito Tejada-Flores. It was a very small event to start with, but attracted some interesting climbers and mountain type people. It was patterned after the Banff Film Festival and took its inspiration from the Telluride Film Festival which had started in 1974 and was struggling along, but attracting large enough crowds to fill several venues.
In March of 1984, I read in the Telluride Times newspaper that Bill Kees had decided to throw in the towel and that Rita Robinson an old local with lots of experience working with community organizations and non-profits had taken over the event and was making a plea to the community to help.
I’d know Rita for years and just picked up the phone and called her. I really wanted to know what had happened and what I might do to help. Rita had other ideas. She proposed that I just take it over and the sooner the better. The festival was only a couple of months away and there was no money, no plans, and no special guests coming. Lito was on an overseas business trip and the Board of Directors which at the time was made up of Royal Robbins, Henry Barber, Mike Kennedy Yvon Chouinard, Bob Craig, and Lito (Kees had resigned) were not being of much help.
I got off the phone with Rita and called my old friend and business partner, Chip Kamin, who was much more of a mountaineering person than I was (Chip was named Mountaineer of the Year by the American Alpine Club a few years later). My deal through the years was just to tag along with people like Chip that knew what they were doing on rock and ice climbs and back-country skiing expeditions. I loved the mountains and cherished the time I got to spend in the wilderness or in “crack canyon”, but with three young children and political and business commitments, I wasn’t able to spend as much time out in the mountains as I’d have like to.
THIS WAS THE YEAR THAT SIR EDMUND HILARY ATTENDED
I pitched the idea to Chip about taking over the event, at least long enough to save it from extinction. Chip agreed that he’d jump on board if I would and if, we could hire a managing director. The choice was obvious.
I called Jim Bedford, who I had met when he and Peggy first wandered through Telluride in 1971. It was back when The Forgotten Works was still in the space where the Last Dollar Saloon is now. We’d been friends and I had seen Jim go from a struggling entrepreneur running a health food store in the lower level of the Sheridan Opera House to becoming the manager of the Opera House and later a manager with the Telluride Film Festival. This guy was the “tipping point” of the deal.
It took Jim only a few minutes to essentially agree and list some requirements like money, a budget, support of the Board and I accepted.
The point of the deal was to “save” Mountainfilm. One year at a time, if we could pull it off.
I called Rita back and told her we had a deal. But, we still needed the Board of Mountainfilm to agree.
In about and hour Bob Craig called to discuss the situation. I had never met Bob, but he was a legend. A famous mountaineer, former Chairman of the American Alpine Club, former Director of the Aspen Institute and presently, Director of the Keystone Institute and one of the founding members of Mountainfilm, Bob wanted to know the details and after I explained that Jim Bedford had agreed to manage the event and that Chip and I had agreed to make up the financial deficits and guarantee the money necessary to go forward with this years event, he agreed, as did the other Board Members.
Bedford gathered up the books, mailing lists, contact information and files of Mountainfilm from Rita and got started sending out Press Releases and invites to attendees. We had the Opera House already reserved, so, the only major problem was that we needed some special guest/honorees.
It was late and we needed a quick solution. I only personally knew one real mountain climber of relevant fame and that was my old friend Jeff Lowe who had lived in Telluride for a number of years and who I had done some climbing with (Now the managing director of the Ouray Ice Climbing Festival).
I called Jeff and we talked about the idea. He suggested that we make it the Lowe Family show and said that he would talk to the clan and see what everyone thought.
He called back and said it was a go. The whole gang was coming and although I can’t recall for sure, I believe we had George, Alex, Jeff, Greg and Mike all here. Plus, the parents were here to show home movies and we all had some laughs.
OUR LAST YEAR
The festival had been a success, or at least, we had pulled it off and “saved” it from extinction.
The following year, at our annual Board meeting held at Keystone, I was elected Chairman of the Board and famously called “an over-achiever” by Yvon Chouinard who then proceeded to take us skiing in ten inches of fresh powder. Of course, we decided to do it again next year and it went on for nine years under the Board and Bedford’s leadership.
The event was really all Bedford. The Board helped with money, and fund-raising and twice a year to discuss our “wish-list” of special guests. Most of the meeting was a bunch of guys staring out the window and looking at their hands, wondering when we could all get outside and do just exactly what we were talking about. Fidgety, self-absorbed, short attention spans, visionary, as in thinking about a climbing problem on El Cap, and dodgy, as in don’t look at me, I’d rather be climbing—was how I remember the Board meetings. When it came to coming up with ideas for special guests there was usually something close to active discussion, but we usually agreed to set our sites high and go “big”, which is how we got David Brower with the 10th Mountain Division, Galen Rowell and Sir Edmund Hilary in 1991.
Following a very successful event in 1992, I got a call from Jim Bedford who informed me that he was quitting as manager. He said that his job as County Commissioner coupled with his responsibilities at the Telluride Film Festival made it impossible for him to continue.
Although, the existing Board of Directors never met again, and never authorized new management, the event was continued with new blood and a new agenda.
It continues to this day.