With Whiteside as backdrop, Cashiers screens mountain movies

By Paul Clark • Contributing Writer

A village that attracts residents because of its spectacular beauty has attracted a film festival that celebrates mountain splendor and exploration.

Mountainfilm in Telluride, one of the country’s oldest film festivals, is bringing its 2012 documentaries to town for an event that raises money for the Cashiers Village Council and its work making Cashiers a beautiful place to live.

Curated from the Mountainfilm in Telluride’s Memorial Day Weekend festival in Colorado, these are films of outstanding physical beauty, of icy rivers, flower-carpeted meadows, white-capped mountains and people climbing them, biking through them and parasailing over them. Buddhist prayer flags flutter against impossibly blue skies, and haunting music provides the serenade.

“They say these are ‘movies that matter,’” said Jim Sibley, executive director of the Cashiers Village Council. “The message that each movie is telling inspires people to improve their surroundings. The beauty is that in watching them, you are entertained. Without even knowing it, you are moved to do good.”

The festival is an excellent fit for Cashiers, he said, because of its natural beauty, world-class trout streams and hiking and biking.

The Mountain Film Festival 2012 will occur over two nights, each of which will have different lineup of films. Ranging in length from five to 20 minutes and totaling about 90 minutes each night, they’ll be shown on the sculpted hillside behind Tommy’s Coffee Shop, a business near the intersection of U.S. 64 and N.C. 107 in the center of town. The backdrop to the large movie screen will be Whiteside Mountain, behind which the sun sets.  

“It’s a pretty incredible site,” Sibley said. And it’s a pretty cool thing for Cashiers, too, evidently.

“Film festivals are a great way to publicize a city,” said Jack Sholder, director of the motion picture and television production department at Western Carolina University. “It raises the profile of Cashiers and brings a little culture to the area. There is glamor associated with films. They create a lot of buzz.”

The films are a collection of documentaries that capture the spiritual and physical power of mountains and the people who do great things in them. Power and empowerment are the hallmarks of the films selected by Mountainfilm, a film festival started in 1979 by mountain climbers who climbed by day and watched films about mountains by night. The festival there evolved and has come to include explorers, environmentalists, artists and activists, photographers and filmmakers.  

Mountainfilm came to Cashiers three years ago at the behest of a private developer. Steve Zoukis hosted the event because he believed the kinds of people the films would attract – younger people active in the outdoors – were the type who would buy the clever, highly designed cottages he wanted to build at Cashiers Village.

“The event was really well received,” Zoukis said. The audience included people from outside Cashiers, including some filmmakers. The films ran the gamut of outdoor adventure and adventure travel and included one about some older barbers from North Carolina’s coast who spend time between haircuts picking bluegrass in their shop. The barbers came to Zoukis’ event and picked until Zoukis was ready to go home. And then they picked some more, at their hotel.

“People commented to me that this was a different collection of visitors than Cashiers usually gets,” Zoukis said. “People came out of the woodwork and told me ‘I didn’t know that there were people like this around here.’”

Some of the visitors came from Brevard, which every year sells out the BANFF Mountain Film Festival World Tour and its mountain adventure films. There is a modest number of film festivals held each year in Western North Carolina. Despite the scaling back of the city-run Asheville Film Festival, Asheville has several festivals this year, including Actionfest (April), Asheville Jewish Film Festival (April), Twin Rivers Multimedia Festival (May 25-27) Qfest (fall, dates to be announced), the Asheville Cinema Festival (Nov. 1-4) and the Asheville International Children’s Film Festival (fall).

The city-sponsored Asheville Film Festival didn’t make money for the city, but it brought national exposure, Sholder said. He’s been a judge at film festivals in Asheville, Belgium, Portugal and Spain. “They feed you well, put you up in a nice place, there are a lot of fans,” he said. “You have to watch a lot of movies, and not all of them are good.”

But that’s not the reputation of Mountainfilm, he said. It is know for excellent cinema, he said.

Brookings’ Cashier Village Anglers is a festival sponsor because, like many of its Cashiers’ clients, it is concerned about conservation, said Boone Walker, a fishing guide and employee at the shop.  

“Our clientele and the Cashiers community are environmentally aware and don’t mind donating time and money to making improvements around town,” he said, noting the work the council is doing to plant 55 trees in the village.  

“Mountainfilm in Telluride screens films that convey a message,” said Henry Lystad, director of the worldwide tour that’s bringing the films to Cashiers. “Whether that message is social justice, mountain culture or incredible personal feats of tragedy or victory – if the story is strong, inspirational and gets people motivated to do something, we will consider screening it.”

And that will bring to Cashiers not only conscientious residents but also people from elsewhere concerned about the environment and cultural preservation.

Should make for a fascinating weekend in Cashiers.

“They’ll end up bringing in some interesting, artistic people, and it’ll be fun,” said Sholder, an award-winning director and editor. “People ask me what’s the best part of making a movie. It’s going to a festival after it’s over. The film is done, and everyone is shaking your hand instead of busting your balls.”

The Cashiers festival begins at 6 p.m. both evenings with food, drink and music (The Honeycutters on Friday, Zorki & Friends on Saturday) presented by the Greater Cashiers Area Merchants Association At sunset, everyone will spread their blankets, set out their chairs and watch the films.


Mountain Film Festival

When: 8:30 p.m. June 8-9.

Where: The hillside behind Tommy’s Coffee Shop.

Cost: $20 adults and $10 children under 13 each night. Two-night pass is $35 adult and $15 child. Other packages available.

More: www.cashiersvillagecouncil.org.

Also: Music from 6:30-8:30 p.m.


The listed films (others will be a surprise):

• “Chasing Water”

• “Dark Side of the Lens”

• “Mr. Happy Man”

• “Waiting For a Train”

• “Kadoma”

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