Film Festival Profile: Mountain Town
Director: Brendan Kiernan and Frank Pickell
Cinematographer: Jasper Gray
Show times: Monday, November 12, 6:15 p.m.; Wednesday, November 14, 8:30 p.m.; Sunday, November 18, 5:30 p.m.
Pick path, pursue it to the exclusion of everything else, and the universe will conspire with you to make things happen. Even in Aspen, Colorado. Informed by this belief and born of the desire to tell the story of an Aspen that eschews stereotypes of the town, Mountain Town is a documentary profile of the Roaring Fork Valley told through the perspective of eleven Aspen residents by Aspen-born, Denver-based filmmakers Brendan Kiernan and Frank Pickell.
“Everyone thinks [Aspen] is a certain kind of a place super glitzy, those kind of Hollywood stories, that's the kind of wrap that it has,” says Kiernan. “We had talked about the idea of wanting to make a film about the people who make it such a special place, about a core group of people who make it what it is.”
Those people include a massage therapist from Iran, an Olympic silver medalist in snowboarding, a painter, a school teacher, an elder in the telemark skiing community, his protege, and an immigrant from Mexico. Mountain Town is a film about the interconnectivity of life in a place where making rent and staying sane can be tough on those who aren't wholly dedicated to making it work. Along with traditional interviews and fly-on-the-wall camera observations, Kiernan and Pickell also chose to add some more staged elements of narrative cinema to paint what they feel is a more “true” portrayal of their hometown.
“We didn't set out to create something that had to adhere to any really strict principles of documentary purity, but something that would be true in a sense that it was a representation of a feeling, a place, a time, a look at peoples' lives,” says Kiernan. “There are plenty of documentaries out there that are about really serious subjects and those are amazing projects and films, but that isn't what Mountain Town is about, this film is about a sense of a place where anything is possible.”
And capture it they have. Cinematographer Jasper Gray – who met Kiernan and Pickell through this project and who, while working on Mountain Town, convinced them to move to Denver and start a production company with him called Futuristic Films – recalled over lunch recently the reaction he noticed when the film first screened in Aspen.
“There was this guy next to me who had been living there for six years and was just making a go of it, and he kept on leaning over during the screening and telling me, 'this is it, this is exactly what it's like to be here in this place at this time,'” said Gray.
For those expecting a treatise on the socio-economic implications of the lives lived in mountain towns will probably be disappointed. That thread is followed through the biographies of a few characters, but it isn't the thrust of the film. On the other hand, those expecting to find an outdoor action doc about extreme athletes will get a bit of heart-stopping alpine extremism and breathtaking mountain scenics, but this is also not a film about life on that edge either. Instead, Mountain Town works well to tell the story of what a few folks have found to be possible with a bit of effort and a love for their surroundings.
-- Sean Cronin