Telluride Mountainfilm Fest Comes to Santa Barbara

Showcase of Independent, Environmentally Minded, and Exploratory Films at UCSB

Losing the Elephants

Going strong after 30 years, the Telluride Mountainfilm Festival has become one of the world’s most provocative forums for independent filmmaking on exploration, conservation, and global issues that affect the environment and natural resources. The fest’s annual touring version comes to UCSB’s Campbell Hall on Wednesday, October 8, courtesy of UCSB Arts & Lectures and Horny Toad, a Santa Barbara outdoor clothing company that also sponsors the full festival in Telluride. This year, the touring package includes great short films on a wide variety of topics, including Asian elephants, fly fishing for Baja’s roosterfish, and the ironies of the job line. The program is sure to be fun, educational, and a great conversation starter.

None of the films is longer than half an hour, and the screening includes an intermission, so there will be plenty of time for discussion and debate. In addition to seven short films, the program presents filmmaker Peck Euwer, director of Losing the Elephants. This documentary tells the story of Lek Chailert’s Elephant Nature Park, a facility in Thailand that has been established to rescue and restore to health Asian elephants that have been neglected or abused. Euwer is a great speaker, and the film garnered standing-room-only audiences at every screening in Telluride, so Santa Barbara audiences are getting something special.

Fridays at the Farm

Mountainfilm takes an eclectic approach to programming that emphasizes awareness and great photography equally. Richard Power Hoffmann displays both in his film Fridays at the Farm, which documents his experience as a passive consumer who becomes an organic gardener through joining a community farm. The film was assembled from more than 20,000 beautiful high-resolution time-lapse photos, and the result is a hypnotic ode to the miracle of life.

Running Down the Man

Another frequent theme at Mountainfilm is the great quest. Much like his fellow adventurers the mountaineers, world-renowned fly-fisher Frank Smethurst lives for the next challenge. In the film Running Down the Man, Smethurst takes on the roosterfish of Baja with just a fly-fishing rod and his buddy. These spectacularly adorned saltwater fish are ultra-cagey, and Smethurst ends up having to sprint up and down the hot beaches of Mexico, fly fishing in a way that’s as strenuous as skimboarding.

Trip Jennings calls his 26-minute documentary The Last Frontier: Conservation & Exploration in Papua New Guinea, which doesn’t communicate half of what’s in store for the lucky viewer. In addition to educating about the biodiversity, indigenous culture, and extreme natural beauty of Papua New Guinea, the film gives an inside point of view from Jennings and his companions as they make a kayak first descent that involves 50-foot waterfalls, giant standing waves, and crocodiles.

Likewise, the Japanese film Presence: 40 Days in Greenland superficially resembles the ubiquitous extreme skiing doc, but there’s one very significant difference. Where most skiers who go out of bounds are dropped in by small aircraft or helicopters, these intrepid Japanese explorers carry their gear deep into the rugged mountains and only ski down what they have climbed under their own power.

But back to Losing the Elephants‘ Euwer, whose presence will present a great chance for anyone interested in Santa Barbara surfing and great ocean cinematography to catch up with one of the surf film industry’s true rock stars-and one who lives here. Euwer and his partner Mike Kasic own Swell Pictures, the company behind the epic 2004 film The Big Swell, which remains the definitive portrait of the original big-wave surfing scene at Maverick’s in Northern California.

Euwer also happens to be the main character in a very well-known surfing story of his own. He and Kasic were paddling out in October 2000 when a 10-foot great white picked up Euwer out of the water and bit out a large chunk of his board. Uninjured but a little shaken up, the ever-articulate Euwer told the Half Moon Bay Review, “It was a spiritual, life-changing event. I hugged a shark. There’s a reason for that. We totally touched. It’s an incredibly unique once-in-a-lifetime event, to get that close and survive unscathed. It only nicked my arm. It was a religious experience. We were one for that moment in time. We looked each other in the eye. Whitey paid me a visit-the man in the grey suit.”

These days, Euwer has turned his cinematographer’s eye on the fate of the great Asian elephants, a species that has been decimated by the spread of the human population and its systematic exploitation of the animal’s strength as forced labor. It’s a compelling film that brings several disciplines, including psychiatry, to bear on the plight of these highly intelligent and apparently self-aware creatures. Get a front-row seat and ask this man some questions-you’re bound to learn something new, no matter what color suit he is wearing.


Telluride Mountainfilm on Tour screens on Wednesday, October 8, at 7:30 p.m., in UCSB’s Campbell Hall. Call 893-3535 or visit


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