Most enlightened people hope to share in the dream Martin Luther King, Jr. once spoke about so eloquently. The MountainTop Film Festival reflects the goals he urged his followers to pursue even if he could no longer lead them: civil rights, justice and peace. The Waitsfield event, running from January 11 through 15 at the Eclipse Theater, uses cinema as a means to understand social and political struggles. But the organizers are also interested in topical fare with a somewhat lighter touch.
"We're trying to mix it up this year," explains festival manager Kimberly Ead. "We have positive selections, like Favela Rising, about a [music and] dance movement in Brazil. It shows how people can use art to change their reality."
In I Know I'm Not Alone, musician Michael Franti carries an acoustic guitar and a video camera on his quest to create harmony in the Middle East. And Jay Jonroy's David & Layla is a comedy feature about a Jewish New Yorker who falls for a Kurdish immigrant.
Nonetheless, a slate of 15 motion pictures and a few panel discussions with filmmakers will bring some gravitas to the otherwise snow-obsessed Mad River Valley. Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, for example, would be a particularly sobering après-ski experience. This documentary by Alex Gibney, who'll be on hand to answer questions, is nominated for an Oscar.
On his last film, The Trials of Henry Kissinger, Gibney collaborated with Eugene Jarecki, the husband of festival director Claudia Becker. Jarecki also has a new project screening at MountainTop, Why We Fight.
In King's time, the Vietnam War was poisoning the nation. Today, the occupation of Iraq is tearing the American soul apart. But Jarecki addresses an even lengthier legacy of combat in his doc, which won a top prize at the 2005 Sundance festival. "It goes to the heart of where we've been headed for the past 50 years," he notes. "But I did not want to work from a liberal viewpoint. I tried to contain my subjectivity and present a range of opinions."
Former President Dwight Eisenhower and his famous warning about "the military-industrial complex" are at the center of Why We Fight, which opens nationwide on January 20.
"Ike saw a danger to the republic itself," Jarecki points out. "He sensed that runaway corporatism corrupts the democratic process we're supposed to rely on. The public has to look beyond the news and assume they're not being given the full story. If not, they can sit back, watch TV and watch the oil prices rise."
Other festival films tackle related subjects. BattleGround chronicles three weeks some American filmmakers spent on the frontlines in Iraq. "Winning the Peace" is an 18-minute short about an Iraqi, serving as U.S. Marine, who tries to find meaning in the chaos that has overtaken his ancestral homeland.
MountainTop, which is co-presented by Human Rights Watch, examines the theme of faith-based extremist ideology in several movies on the schedule: Protocols of Zion, about anti-Semitism; With God on Our Side, which explores this country's religious right; Iran: Veiled Appearances, which zeroes in on how the ayatollahs have curbed freedom of expression; and "Freaks Like Me," a meditation on diversity.
Similarly, The Education of Shelby Knox focuses on a Texas teen who investigates how the abstinence-only approach promoted by Christian fundamentalists has failed young people. Recent headlines have indicated that the Bush administration uses high-paid consultants to spread the Republican Party's version of democracy in the Arab world. At the Waitsfield gathering, Our Brand is Crisis will look at such strategists-for-hire trying to influence elections around the globe. The Future of Food targets the questionable practice of genetic engineering when it comes to what we eat. A community potluck dinner presumably will provide festival ticket-holders with more wholesome edibles.The weekend's "special screening" of a new documentary must remain a surprise until the last minute, according to Ead, who will only reveal that its director is expected to attend.
Live music in the evenings is an additional attraction at the fest. Becker recently purchased the two-screen Eclipse, so there'll be some sort of celebratory venue-renaming contest. To cap the five-day extravaganza, Bread and Puppet founder Peter Schumann will offer a fiddle lecture.
"I think we'll have a star-studded crowd," Ead predicts. "And Sunday night we're planning to go out with a bang."
For more information about the MountainTop Film Festival, visit http://www.mountaintopfilmfestival.com or call 496-8994 or 777-8444.