In 1973, an Australian traveler and documentary filmmaker traversed the Atacama Desert from Chile to Peru. He had been traveling through Chile when Gen. Augusto Pinochet launched his infamous military coup. Finding himself stranded with the Peruvian border suddenly closed, he embarked on the only escape option left -- to cross one of the driest deserts in the world on a small motorbike.
The memory of this film remains with me today, though I can't recall the title, reminding me that the adventures we set out on don't always turn out as expected.
I got a similar sensation watching four of the films to be shown at Telluride's MountainFilm on Tour this weekend in Colorado Springs. On Saturday, the one-night-only festival will provide a window to several worlds and adventures that most of us wouldn't otherwise experience. Six films, ranging in length from three to 42 minutes, will take viewers to Idaho and Pakistan and through a gamut of emotions.
Cost of Freedom, a documentary by Vanessa Schulz, is the most emotionally compelling. It examines the reactions of the different parties involved in a Gray Wolf reintroduction attempt in Idaho. It gives voice to both those that support the program and to others that believe it is one of the greatest "bureaucratic catastrophes of Idaho's history."
Woven between footage of wolves in the wild are town meetings and talking head interviews. The film follows the experience of "B36," a female wolf transported from Canada and released with 20 others.
On a lighter note, River Runners of the Grand Canyon is an eight-minute film by Don Briggs documenting two separate attempts by "river rats" to master the Colorado River.
The first vignette takes place in the 1800s. Charlie Russell, an "all time, bull goose loony" led two ill-fated expeditions to navigate the canyon that were captured partly on grainy silent film. The narration is hilarious and it adopts an appropriate "Keystone Kops" tone.
The second tells the story of "The Big Swim." In April 1955, two Californians, John Daggett and Bill Beer, couldn't afford a boat but, undeterred, decided to swim the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. Entering the river with a couple of rubber boxes to provide buoyancy and carry supplies, the pair emerged bruised and battered after 26 days and 280 miles, becoming national heroes in the process.
Biscuit is a quirky three-minute film about "the Lynn Hill of the dog world." Hill is a famous rock climber and Biscuit is a broom-ravaging Jack Russell terrier that somehow scrambles up rock faces that would challenge most able-bodied climbers.
Wade Davis: The Explorer is a 2002 documentary by Andrew Gregg following Canadian Wade Davis on a trip to Cuzco, Peru, and into the wilds of Alaska and British Columbia. Davis, an ethnobotanist and best-selling author, reflects on his life as an explorer and his experiences living with 15 different indigenous tribes in Latin America and Haiti.
Two other films complete the mini-festival: a nine-minute examination of how a group of Pakistani shepherdesses reacts to the presence of an American teacher and her filmmaker husband; and a 26-minute exploration of the relationship between Chinese fisherman Zong Man, his fishing cormorants and the people they feed along the Li River.
See the festival and if you have impressionable older children or young adults in your family, take them. These films leave long-lasting impressions of a world where adventure is alive, where people care passionately about their environments and where nothing is quite what it seems.
Telluride's MountainFilm on Tour
Saturday, May 8, silent auction at 6:30 p.m., films start at 7 p.m.
Benet Hill Monastery, 2577 N. Chelton Road
Tickets $12, can be purchased at Mountain Chalet, 226 N. Tejon St., The Independent, 235 S. Nevada Ave., or at the door.
For details of the Telluride MountainFilm Festival to be held May 28-31 in Telluride, see http://www.mountainfilm.org/.