R.I.P. Wally

On this, the third anniversary of my family’s dog Wally’s passing, it’s as good a day as any to resume posting occasional blog entries here.

I begin by referring the visitor to https://MrWally.com, where some of Wally’s activities and travels are described.  Wally was a wonderful dog who brightened the day for many and helped make those around him better.

I hope you enjoy learning about Wally and can perceive his impact on others.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Two Book Recommendations

I’ve read and can recommend two recently published non-fiction books.

As a child growing up in the Cleveland, Ohio area, a favorite expedition was with my Dad and Uncle Frank to Lake Erie’s waterfront.  We’d fish for whatever might be biting, which at that time tended to be yellow perch and the now extinct blue pike.  Since I left for college in New Jersey and then settled in California, I’ve had zero days of fishing on Lake Erie or any other of the Great Lakes.  But from popular news accounts, family, and friends, I was aware of some of the changing identities of the lakes’ major personalities, such as the invasive zebra mussel and the stocked coho and chinook salmon as well as the threatening Asian Carp.

Each of the aforementioned non-natives are discussed, as well as others in The Death and Life of the Great Lakes by Dan Egan, a reporter at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.  It’s a lively, very well written survey of the non-native creatures of the Great Lakes, along with comments on related scientific research and politics.  It could be called a natural history book, even though the non-native species are uniformly introduced through man’s actions, some intentional, some not.

The subject of non-native species in the Great Lakes is non-trivial, as they’ve cost utilities, municipalities, former commercial fishermen, and other lake users $billions in lost income, cleanup, increased maintenance, re-engineering, etc.  And the costs aren’t confined to the Great Lakes – zebra and quagga mussels are working their way into the U.S. west, fouling water and inconveniencing boaters to the tune of many $ millions.

The book covers a lot of ground as may be evident from some of the sources the author weaved into the story:  University of Michigan’s Institute for Fisheries Research, Boston Society of Natural History, Cornell’s National Aquatic Nuisance Species Clearing House, the U.S. Department of the Interior Fish Farming Experimental Lab (!, itself an endangered species), and Notre Dame’s Environmental Change Initiative, among others.

In short, Egan’s book is an intelligent, balanced, and highly readable report on many of the more popular or vexing inhabitants of the Great Lakes.


I found The Jersey Brothers by Sally Mott Freeman especially hard to put down.  It’s the story of “a missing naval officer in the Pacific and the quest to bring him home.”

What a story it is!  History, family, and the realities of war are all present as the author tells the parallel paths of 3 brothers from New Jersey who served in the Navy during World War II.  Researched at 20 venues including the Philippines and England, it’s a  story both well constructed and well written.  The author, one of the protagonist’s daughters, spent years and many dollars traveling and researching to unravel the WWII paths of the brothers, especially that of the youngest, who was taken as a Japanese prisoner just a few weeks after Pearl Harbor.  Details in this book, especially of the imprisoned brother, confirm that yes, “War is Hell.”

The book includes extensive notes documenting the author’s original research which included the review of a significant amount of privately held correspondence, a well curated subset of which illuminates the narrative.  Freeman, a first time author, has written a book certain to take a place on many readers’ shelves as a favorite.

Endnote:  The Jersey Brothers came to my attention by way of a New York Times article published a few days after a Navy reunion I attended and which sparked interest in the Battle of Midway and WWII.  The reunion was in San Diego of Vietnam-era officers who served on the USS Saint Paul, and included a day-long visit on the excellent USS Midway Museum as well as a visit to the San Diego Maritime Museum and its Swift Boats at War in Vietnam exhibit, both worthwhile for any San Diego visitor.

Posted in Books & Films | Leave a comment

Spin, fib, bullshit, or lie?

Author’s note:  This post was written several months ago but not posted immediately because I wanted to “sleep on it.”  Now, given the rather rude firing of FBI director Comey a couple days ago and the related spin, I decided this country’s admin is a lost cause so it was time to press “publish.”

In September, 2015, I published a blog entry  which discussed Hillary Clinton’s email situation  and conveyed my disapproval.  She was the favored candidate for the Democratic party’s candidate for president, but that race was far from over.  I concluded that blog entry with the statement:

“We don’t need public servants who choose to disregard this country’s laws and policy with impunity and then blatantly and repeatedly make misleading statements or lie.”

Now that well over a year has passed since my September, 2015, blog post and Donald Trump is has been elected our president, it seems appropriate re-visit my assertion that we don’t need lying public servants.

And, sadly, while Clinton’s misleading (at best) statements were very irritating to this writer, they look nearly harmless and almost insignificant when compared with Trump’s erroneous statements.

Many journalists and others have commented on and/or cataloged Trump’s inaccurate statements so I won’t attempt to inventory or rank them.  Instead I’ll just point the reader to a selection of websites & articles on the subject that I’ve found insightful or memorable:

Fact-checkers:  These sites strive to be objective analysts of politicians’ public statements:

  1. The Washington Post’s Factchecker column asserts it is “The Truth Behind The Rhetoric.” Led by columnist Glenn Kessler, it awards up to 4 Pinocchio noses depending on the size of the “whopper.” Background on Kessler and the grading scale is here.
  2. Factcheck.org is a project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania.  A recent post reviews statements made in a well-publicized Trump speech and finds many were false.

Opinions: Following are essays on Trump and his propensity to bullshit and lie:

  1. Harry Frankfurt, a Princeton philosophy professor and author of the influential essay  On Bullshit, wrote in Time magazine about Trump:  “It is disturbing to find an important political figure who indulges freely both in lies and in bullshit. What is perhaps even more deeply disturbing is to discover an important segment of our population responding to so incorrigibly dishonest a person with such pervasively enthusiastic acceptance.”
  2. An opinion column, “The Danger of Trump’s Constant Lying” by Sam Waterston: “By the frequency of his lying, Trump has revealed a truth …regular and habitual lying is an existential threat to us, to our institutions, our memories, our understanding of now and of the future, to the great American democratic experiment, and to the planet.”
  3. In what was the match that lit the fuse for this post, in his New York Times Op-ed column Nobel prizewinner Paul Krugman recently came down harder than ever on Trump.  Annoyed with journalists who found Trump’s recent (2/28/17) speech to congress “presidential,” in the recent post he labeled Trump “the most dishonest man ever to hold high office in America.”

Spin, fib, bullshit, or lie?  I understand spin is going to happen whether we like it or not, so there’s not much use in getting worked up about it.  An occasional Fib doesn’t bother me much and, in some circumstances, may serve a worthwhile purpose.  Bullshit and lies from a president are more problematic.  And I suspect the reputation he’s developed will be a very big problem if/when there’s a crisis .

With hindsight and given today’s circumstances, it’s clear more than ever that “We don’t need public servants who lie.”



Posted in Best Practices | 1 Comment

Mini-Review: Banff Mountain Film Festival 2016 World Tour

While in San Francisco last week I attended the second evening’s program of the Banff Mountain Film Festival’s World Tour.  The tour features a diverse selection of 18 films screened at the November, 2016, festival in Banff.

San Francisco’s interest in the World Tour has increased steadily and two nights of programming at the large Palace of Fine Arts auditorium (600+ seats) now sell out (at $20/ticket) routinely.  In the Bay Area the World Tour also screens for two evenings in San Rafael, Berkeley, and Redwood City, as it does in 15 other California locations.

I was mildly disappointed with the night #2 program of 9 films, most of which were generally mediocre.  Edited down action films with river kayaking and skiing generally reminded one of films screened in earlier years; that is to say, nothing new.  Films with a story line were generally uninteresting and/or so self-indulgent they were off-putting.

Nonetheless, I’d like to mention 4 films that are worth checking out.

The award for Best Short Film at the 2016 Festival went to Northbound, a beautifully filmed skateboarding film in the Norwegian arctic.  It was done in winter at the beach so northbound-norwaythe skateboarders are doing their thing on frozen sand.  Scenic and spare, it’s different.  (But it was also vaguely familiar since I sensed I’d seen some of the footage in this film before at another festival, either in an earlier cut or in an earlier film by the same shop.  I guess that’s ok.)

An unusual and most pleasing film is Danny MacAskill’s Wee Day Out. MacAskill is a bicyclist and this small film follows him for 6 minutes as he rides through a Scotland landscape with various obstacles.  You’ll like it.  Read lots more on its background here.


Danny MacAskill!

At 25 minutes, The Super Salmon discusses a proposed dam for hydroelectric power on Alaska’s Susitna  River. It’s a story with interesting characters and footage, but one that is somewhat ambiguous, or at least unclear, on the merits and costs of the dam.


Susitna River flows south into Cook Inlet




Sidebar:  As I had often traveled along the Susitna, to and from Denali Education  Center and Anchorage, the film was a good reminder that I should get back up there again soon!


Finally, the Eastern side of California’s Sierra Nevada mountain range was the backdrop for The Perfect Flight, a very nice short on an abandoned falcon chick and its companion, Shawn Hayes of perfect-flightRiverside, CA.  Through his activities as the bird’s guardian and coach, Mr. Hayes has become a leading expert on falconry.  He made a brief but memorable appearance, a highlight of the evening.



In summary, the World Tour offered footage on diverse, outdoor subjects, and several of the films were quite good.

Posted in Film Festivals, Outdoors | 2 Comments

Selections from San Francisco Int’l Ocean Film Festival #13

Earlier this month I attended the 13th annual San Francisco International Ocean Film Festival.  I’ve been to almost every program of every festival and am pleased to say the festival production and this year’s overall film quality were the best yet.  It also appeared that attendance was the highest yet.  That is all plus.

On the other hand, I had the feeling of deja vu, that the festival was/is in a bit of a rut – or, said another way, that the festival was in many ways a repeat of years past – even though none of the films had been screened at a previous festival.  Perhaps there are only a finite number of distinctive ways to approach many of the festival’s perennial subjects such as plastics, overfishing, shark finning, etc.  If so, perhaps no matter how talented the filmmakers, many of the films are or become indistinguishable and forgotten.  To the extent that is true the festival’s progress may well be stymied unless it freshens its content and evolves its format.

Only a few of us have been to all festivals, so by definition any criticism I may have is that of an outlier.  Nonetheless, there are other repeat attendees and I wouldn’t be surprised to hear they have similar observations.  In a future post I’ll offer some ideas on how the festival could be improved.

There were two especially noteworthy films:

The Weekend Sailor is a 75 minute film on the first Whitbread Round the World Yacht Race in 1973.  This film features spectacular archival footage as well as recent interviews with several of the crew members.  A “plot twist” was that the yacht Sayula II’s captain/owner and several of its crew were utter novices when it came to ocean racing – in stark contrast to the other competitors.

Crew of the Sayula II

Crew of the Sayula II

Supplementing the race’s time line and with a light touch, the film made clear the captain had truly outstanding leadership skills.  He, a successful Mexican businessman, could obviously run a lot of things very, very well.

It was a difficult race – around the world in 4 legs (3 ports of call plus the finish) using one sailboat.  Big swells, fright, dismasting, and death were all in evidence, as well as a compelling story with ample humor.  The Whitbread is now known as the Volvo Ocean Race and continues to be one of sailing’s most formidable challenges.

Legendary sailor/adventurer/connector Anthony Sandberg emceed the film program and concurs that this is one of the best sailing films ever.  The program was seriously enhanced with the presence of and enthusiastic Q & A participation by the filmmaker and several crew members.

A second personal favorite is Ocean Driven, a 55 minute film with plenty of beautiful surfing footage from around the world.  But this film is much more than eye candy as it deftly conveys the passion of one big wave surfer,  Chris Bertish.  After more than a decade of assiduously striving for an invitation to the Maverick’s Big Wave Invitational, he finally received the call.  But it came just after a crippling injury that clearly posed a major threat to his participation.  He persevered, surfed in the Invitational, and won the contest.  “Totally awesome.”

Dropping into Mavericks

Dropping into Mavericks

Bertish made a quick trip to the festival from his home in South Africa and led a spirited Q & A session.  His was the last film of the last film program, so many attendees, filmmakers, and festival volunteers worked their way over to the highly anticipated festival wrap party hosted by and at the Dolphin Club.

Several short films were quite good, but more noteworthy are three longer films that also stood apart.  Two conveyed weather changes near the poles, while the third was a unique,  meditative exploration of the polar region.

“Sila” is the weather, sky, and “all that is out there.”  Sila and the Gatekeepers of the Arctic is a 65 minute restrained, well filmed and edited film featuring a small community of Inuit who are settled, for the time being, 1200 miles north of the Arctic Circle.  But things are changing as the dissipation of polar ice affects everyones’ lifestyles, which this film conveys quite vividly and humanely.

Siorapaluk, Greenland - pop 68 (2010)

Siorapaluk, Greenland – pop 68 (2010)


Created and produced by Rutgers University students, teachers, and staff, Arctic Edge: 70 Degrees South is an entertaining and educational 72 minute look at the changes in the Antarctic as observed and cataloged by the scientists on the Palmer Peninsula working on the National Science Foundation’s Long Term Ecological Research project.  Heavy enough but not overburdened with science and using beautiful footage along with animation to convey ideas, this film offers meaningful evidence that the climate is indeed changing.

Speechless – the Polar Realm is a 44 minute montage of precisely filmed and edited, often unusual, mostly beautiful footage of the polar regions and their native inhabitants.  Without a narrator or talking heads, aural stimulation is provided by the original instrumental music score.   A very memorable statement, the film wears well and could be watched again.


All fine films, the three polar films mentioned offer a  variety of subject matter and cinematic approaches.

Posted in Books & Films, Non-profits, Outdoors, Saltwater | Leave a comment

Zeke Grader (1947-2015), Fishermen’s Friend

In early September we lost William “Zeke” Grader, Jr., a tireless and impactful advocate of free flowing rivers, wild salmon, and family fishermen.  With a passion for a healthy environment, especially for the fish, Zeke was an energetic, articulate, and expert spokesman on the subjects he cared about.

In the months before his passing, Zeke was the subject of various accolades, newspaper articles, congressional recognition, etc.  While his many roles and accomplishments have been described with respect and affection by others, and I’ll touch on them below, what maybe overlooked is that Zeke was one of San Francisco’s entrepreneurs in that he took the lead from an early stage on many environmental initiatives.

Raised on the north coast of California, Zeke had commercial fishing in his life from youth.  After serving in the U.S. Marine Corps, he attended law school at University of San Francisco; then, upon passing the bar and in lieu of pursuing a traditional career in the law, Zeke chose to take the role of Executive Director of the newly formed, fledgling Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations (PCFFA), a federation of 25 port and fishermen’s marketing associations from San Diego to Alaska, the largest trade association of commercial fishermen on the west coast.  Zeke led that non-profit from his hiring in the mid 1970’s until earlier this year and through it took on many fish habitat and other environmental issues.

In addition to leading PCFFA, in 1992 he founded the non-profit The Institute for Fisheries Resources, whose mission is “to protect the natural resource bounty of the Pacific Ocean along the western seaboard of North America, including Alaska and Hawaii.”  Zeke served as Executive Director of IFR until earlier this year.

PFFA and IFR have interests that overlap and Zeke was the public persona in advancing those interests.  For example, quoting from the March 19, 2015 Congressional Record,

“With Zeke at the helm, the PCFFA took a leading role in crafting important state and federal legislation to preserve the coastal fishing industry. Zeke lobbied strongly for California’s 1988 Salmon, Steelhead Trout, and Anadromous Fisheries Program Act, which called for a statewide salmon conservation plan to double the present numbers of wild salmon. He pushed for modernization of the federal Fishery Conservation and Management Act, litigated to expedite water quality restoration under the federal Clean Water Act, and fought for protections of fishing grounds by organizing for the prevention and clean-up of petroleum spills.  In 1988, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration honored Zeke Grader with its prominent Environmental Hero award. For many Zeke has been a hero over many decades and his tireless efforts to protect the wild California Coast have ensured the present vitality of our fishing communities.”

I met Zeke around 2003 as I began to pursue the idea of a film festival based on films related to the ocean.  When I dropped in as an unannounced visitor to his waterfront office (whose busy appearance reminded me of mine!), Zeke was friendly and encouraging.   Over the next several years, as the festival launched and gained momentum, Zeke was there –  He willingly took on the role of behind the scenes point person for fresh fish, ensuring and subsidizing (with his fishing colleagues) a supply of super fresh seafood for several of the festival’s opening receptions, which were important fundraisers and festival community building events.

I’ll always remember Zeke’s steady outlook and admire his commitment and willingness to work on issues he believed in with or without public recognition.  He was a person I am glad to have known and wish I’d have known better.

Zeke just a few steps from his office.

Zeke just a few steps from his office.

The following articles offer additional insights into Zeke and his large presence in the non-industrial fishing industry:

A reporter reminisces:   http://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/4457677-181/zeke-grader-champion-of-fishermen?page=1

An obituary:   http://www.latimes.com/local/obituaries/la-me-zeke-grader-20150916-story.html

An affectionate & personal recollection is this fine blog post by a former co-worker, Sara Randall:  http://whofishesmatters.blogspot.com/2015/10/remembering-zeke-grader-fisheries.html

More institution is The Congressional Record:  https://www.congress.gov/congressional-record/2015/4/13/extensions-of-remarks-section/article/e453-4?q=%7B%22search%22%3A%5B%22zeke+grader%22%5D%7D&resultIndex=1

Finally, A 2013 talk by Zeke at a symposium on the 5th anniversary of California’s designation of marine protected areas is here:

Published on March 17, 2013, this clip is part of a series of video presentations from the State of the California Central Coast symposium, held February 27 – March 1, 2013 in Monterey, CA. The symposium focused on the monitoring and management of California’s Central Coast regional network of marine protected areas (MPAs). The presentations and panel discussions shared ecological and socioeconomic results from the first five years of MPA monitoring in the region and new approaches for MPA implementation. The results are accessible in an ‘e-book’ format that includes inteactive graphs, videos and more on http://www.oceanspaces.org. The symposium was convened by California Ocean Science Trust and MPA Monitoring Enterprise, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, California Fish and Game Commission, and the California Ocean Protection Council. 

Posted in People of note, Saltwater | 1 Comment

MountainFilm in Mill Valley – 2015 shorts, part 2

This is Part 2 of a recap of the shorts shown at MountainFilm in Mill Valley in mid September.   Shorts varied in length from under 2 minutes to 29 minutes and featured people and their endeavors on mountains, in the surf and much in between.  Some films featured nature, others contoured a human’s spirit.  The group was a subset of the shorts screened in Telluride at the MountainFilm Festival over Memorial Day weekend, and you can find a comprehensive list of those films here.

Mill Valley is a mountain biking nexus and bicycle themed shorts were abundant:

Ashes to Agassiz, 2 minute trailer for a film about an aggressive bike rider.

Beat Down – A couple of millennials tearing up Utah while on bikes.  Viewer discretion advised.  3.5 min.

Dark Woods BMX – In a forest, 3 min. of acrobatic bicycling.

Eddie Masters Gets Fat  5 min. slapstick featuring a fat bike and a “fat” rider.

Taxco Urban Downhill – In Mexico, a bicyclist with a helmet mounted GoPro descends on a varied and interesting urban route.  4 min.

The Thousand Year Journey: Oregon to Patagonia*-  This 4 min. short may be a healthy nudge to take on something new.

Similar but different from the preceding are shorts involving “wheels other than bicycle:”

James Kelly – Burn it Down  A Petaluma native skateboards in the Sierra Nevada.  Scenic and all downhill.  4 min.

No Ordinary Passenger*.  A senior citizen and sidecar champion conveys his skill & love

"Do what you love..."

Demo of “flow” from No Ordinary Passenger

of sidecar motorcycle riding.  An unusual endeavor, historic footage, and a compelling protagonist make this quite outstanding and one you’ll remember.  7 min. and none too long.




Water flowing downhill is a fertile framework for human activity and MountainFilm doesn’t disappoint:

Drainage Ditch Kayak – made possible by GoPro, has had 1.8 million views on YouTube.  The title is a giveaway, 3 min.

A Line in the Sand – Animated, colorful, straightforward and a short 2.5 min.  Animated

From A Line in the Sand

From A Line in the Sand

films have a lot of unrealized potential to influence and be for good, and this film is an example.  By the Grand Canyon Trust.


River of Eden is on a beautiful Fijian river and its place in life.  5 minutes.  More at http://RiverofEden.com.

When the mountains reach the sea we have the coast:

The Coast, both scenic and thoughtful, is 6 minutes of therapy, courtesy of the ocean.

The Fisherman’s Son, 29 min.  Born and raised at Punta de Lobos, Chile, Ramón Navarro found his passion riding the biggest waves on the planet. But his accomplishments in giant surf are just one part of a bigger vision to protect the culture and environment of the Chilean coast.  By Patagonia and quite good.

Strange Rumblings (Iceland part) 4 minutes of Iceland and surfing.

In Iceland...

In Iceland…

The Right’s centerpiece is a big wave in Western Australia.  2 minutes of beautiful nature and man challenged.

Finally, we have the hard to categorize Moonwalk.   With a rising moon in the

There's Dean Potter pushing the envelope

There’s Dean Potter pushing the envelope

background, recently deceased adventurer Dean Potter tightropes between a couple of rocks.  Feels a bit contrived but well done and interesting nonetheless. 4 min.

Over the past decade or so, the proliferation of devices and software to “catch the moment” has led to an explosion in the quantity and quality of geo-based shorts.  Those noted above are worth a look as are others mentioned elsewhere on this website and accessible from https://kristjake.com/category/books-films/page/2/.

Over the past few years Mountainfilm has advanced rapidly and its touring program now includes  150 or sites around the world.  Since Banff Mountain Film Fest’s traveling program now involves over 600 sites, the growth and reach of these festivals make it clear there is significant audience demand for what they’re offering, film programming that is geo-based which almost always features a human actor, protagonist, or story.

*asterisks denote those especially recommended

Posted in Books & Films, Film Festivals, Outdoors | Leave a comment

MountainFilm in Mill Valley – 2015 shorts, part 1

Each MountainFilm in Mill Valley program had a feature film along with at least two short films; over the 9 film programs, more than 30 shorts were shown.  Shorts varied in length from under 2 minutes to 29 minutes and featured people and their endeavors on mountains, the surf and much in between.  All films featured the environment to some degree, some emphasized the contours of a human’s spirit.  The group was a subset of the shorts screened in Telluride at the MountainFilm Festival over Memorial Day weekend, and you can find a comprehensive list of those films here.

It should be obvious I really enjoy and appreciate the types of shorts shown at geography based film festivals such as Mountainfilm, Banff Mountain FFSan Francisco Int’l Ocean FF, etc.  So, below I’ve listed a selection of those screened at MountainFilm Mill Valley with links to make it easy for them to be seen by more folks including you.  Those I found especially worthy are denoted with an asterisk (*).  Since films mentioned have gone through 3 filters – Mountainfilm itself, Mill Valley, and myself – they will be,  hopefully, worth some of your time.

Kicking things off, Opening Night’s feature, Unbranded, was accompanied by two very different shorts, the humorous Nature RX (1.5 min) and the heartwarming Denali*, a

Denali and his guardian, Ben

Denali and his guardian, Ben

moving 8 minute autobiographical-like tribute by and to man’s best friend.


As one of Wally’s two very fond guardians, and as some readers may justifiably surmise, Denali struck quite a cord with me.

Below and in a forthcoming post on Mill Valley’s shorts, I cluster a selection of the films in a way that may help the reader zero in on subjects of interest.

Starting up on the mountains, our first group of films involve SKIING:

Said to be hailed by some as one of the “most cinematically profound ski movies ever made,”  Afterglow – Lightsuit Segment* is certainly a fresh, unusual take on downhill.  Filmed at night at Alaska’s Alyeska resort, it was a crowd favorite at Mountainfilm and has 10,000+ likes at Vimeo.  I hope you see for  yourself.  3 minutes.

Ruapehu, 9 min.  Culture & history on the North Island New Zealand along with scenes and skiing.

Sundog* is 5 minutes of Argentinian mountains, man, and a dog.  Very well done and not at all redundant with Denali.


Of course there were shorts on CLIMBING:

The Black Binder*, 7.  Analogous to Monet’s many treatments of the same subject such as haystacks and water lilies, Josh takes different routes on his climbs up a wall in Black Canyon.  One of my favorites.

The Force highlights of one adventuresome spirit’s 10 years in Patagonia climbing and experiencing the place.  By Patagonia, 18 min.

Seele Aus Stein (Soul of Stone), 6.  A senior lifelong climber reflects.  Subtitled.

The forthcoming post, MountainFilm Mill Valley 2015, Part 2, will cover shorts on wheeled adventures and those centered on water, both fresh and salt.


Posted in Books & Films, Film Festivals, Outdoors | Leave a comment

MountainFilm in Mill Valley – 5 Feature Film Microreviews

Last weekend Mill Valley, CA’s wonderful Throckmorton Theatre joint ventured with Telluride’s excellent MountainFilm festival to screen 9 programs of stimulating outdoors films.  This was the 4th annual “MountainFilm in Mill Valley” and the most successful to date, with most programs sold out and filled to capacity.  In the endeavor, Throckmorton Theatre joined the other 150 or so venues around the world that are participants in MountainFilm’s traveling program.

MountainFilm’s presence was impressive with David Holbrook, MountainFilm’s Festival Director, and Henry Lystad, Touring Program Director on the scene and tag-teaming on the emceeing.  I attended 5 of the programs and herein offer capsule reviews of several of the films.

Friday evening’s feature film, Unbranded, is both an adventure story as well as an introductory, evenhanded commentary on wild horses in the U.S. West.  There are now 50,000 wild horses in U.S. government holding facilities awaiting adoption along with thousands more the wild. Those in the wild compete for grassland with livestock ranchers, a background theme.   The main storyline is of 4 buddies from Texas A & M who adopted, trained, and rode wild horses on a 3000 mile trail ride through the West’s always  scenic terrain from Mexico to Canada.

From Mexico to Canada, this appears to be in Wyoming with the Grand Teton in the background.

From Mexico to Canada, this appears to be in Wyoming with the Grand Teton in the background.

From the program notes: “What ensues is an epic adventure of self-discovery, friendship, and gorgeous landscapes…”  The film’s producer, Dennis Aig, was in attendance and provided lucid and insightful comments.

Saturday’s early afternoon program featured Les Voyageurs Sans Trace, otherwise known as the French Kayak Film.  This very nice film is based on the first known decent (1938) of the Green and Colorado Rivers by 3 young Parisians.  Much of that trip was captured on color film, a fairly new technology.   That historic footage is interspersed with footage from a more recent decent by the filmmaker, Ian McCluskey, and well selected talking heads to tell an interesting adventure/exploration story.  Well filmed, well edited, and a good story make for a paragon of independent filmmaking on a modest budget.  The filmmaker did insightful Q&A from his office in Portland by Skype and he’s one who I’m sure will gain additional respect and recognition from this and his future films.

The late Saturday afternoon program featured Higher, a bio of big mountain snowboarding pioneer Jeremy Jones.  Although many ski and snowboarding films are long on eye candy but short on substance, that doesn’t apply here.  Using archival footage, this film traced Jones from his youth on to his current, responsible role  as a husband and father of 2 in Truckee.  With judiciously selected comments by those

Award winner, deservedly so.

Award winner, deservedly so.

who know him well, footage of some his pioneering runs such as the Grand Teton, and spectacular footage of recent descents in Alaska and the Himalyas, this film kept one’s attention.  A most interesting person and a very good film that is at the summit of its genre.


Saturday evening’s feature was Racing Extinction, directed by Louie Psihoyous.  I had high hopes for this film as I’d seen its promotional trailer in, of all places, an Orange County movie theater.  And I knew its director  did a film I think really highly of, The Cove, which was awarded the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature in 2010.  However, Racing Extinction  disappointed me (and others).  It ran through a far too extensive compendium of environmental problems without much in the way of suggested solutions.  To me the film was disjointed, jumping from one problem in one location to another problem in a distant location.  I believe the filmmaker was sincerely trying to inspire action, but at the end I felt adrift.  What to make of all this and what to do now?  Not much in the way of suggestions.  Mr. Psihoyus was in attendance and joined Mr. Holbrook for a nicely done Q & A session.  They were eventually joined by NASCAR race car driver (!), Leilani Munter who, with a sleek Tesla automobile specially outfitted with complicated equipment to project large images on large buildings at night, was a rather strange appendage to the end of the film.  After Q & A and upon exiting the building, patrons received a festival bonus, a closeup of the Tesla itself, which was projecting on a building across the street (until batteries ran down) along with a well informed docent.

Sunday early afternoon featured Down to Nothing which told the story of a 5 person team attempting to summit an obscure Burmese peak.  This film didn’t do much for me either, although it was well filmed and edited with the support of National Geographic.  The storyline seemed forced and the team members had a faint air of entitlement.  Contrasting their complaints about nature’s conditions and their dwindling food supply (due to their own poor trip planning) with the locals’ modest lifestyles, what I was seeing just didn’t seem right.

Sunday evening’s feature was Meru, named after a formidable peak in India.  (I didn’t attend this screening because I’d seen the film at the Kabuki in San Francisco.)  The storyline is of 3 climbers and their – obsession is as good a word as any – with summiting this most difficult, previously unclimbed peak.

Route taken to Meru's summit (!). Courtesy of Alpinist.com.

Route taken to Meru’s summit (!). Courtesy of Alpinist.com.

They tried in 2007 but were turned back a few hundred feet short.  They then individually endured some serious physical mishaps and were discouraged by their families to attempt Meru again.  Undeterred, in 2011 they made another effort and, after a strong dose of mountaineers’ customary hardships and suffering, were successful at summiting and were the first ever to do so.  Stunning scenery and footage, interesting and world class  climbers, and the articulate and well informed Jon Krakauer providing commentary all combine to make this film well worth seeing.

Posted in Books & Films, Film Festivals, Outdoors, Terrestrial | Leave a comment

East Coast, Oct 2014 (continued) – Princeton, Baltimore, Washington

The main reason we were on the East coast was the 50th reunion of Princeton’s 1964 undefeated football team, on which I played.  So on day 4 we caught a bus at Port Authority that took us right to Princeton’s Palmer Square, which is the location of the wonderful Nassau Inn, our home for 2 nights.

The 1964 team had a GREAT reunion, thanks to the ideas and efforts of a small reunion team which included my Berea High School classmate and Princeton star, Ron Landeck.  Turnout was awesome with a very high percentage of teammates returning along with coaches, trainers, and managers.   In many cases it was 5 decades since teammates had been in contact, so it was very special to be able to renew friendships, catch up at least a little and relive some of those moments.

Friday evening the reunion featured an unforgettable reception and dinner, which itself was made totally awesome by short, thoughtful talks by teammates, former coaches, and the University President.  Saturday morning was a meeting of teammates to remember and reflect on those 8 (now 9) teammates no longer with us.

Then it was on to Princeton Stadium for that afternoon’s game (lopsided win by Harvard).  Afterwards, next door at the new version of Frick Chemistry Lab, we had a social hour which included ’64-’66 classmates, leaving time for more socializing in town with friends.

After 50 years it was so rewarding to reunite with guys who were teammates for a great season and who went on to different careers all over the world, in many cases to be seen rarely if at all except, possibly, at Princeton’s world class reunions.

Sunday morning, with the Princeton “Dinky” train station in the middle of being relocated and not in operation, we took a cab to the nearby Princeton Junction train station and caught Amtrak to Philadelphia, where we changed trains for a stop in Baltimore to visit with our dear friend, John Racanelli, CEO of the National Aquarium.

This was a major, major highlight of our trip – John met us upon our entry and hosted a 3 hour tour of the Aquarium, in front of and behind scenes, as well as a most pleasant social hour overlooking Baltimore harbor and Chesapeake Bay.

In the construction zone of a new Aquarium exhibit with John R.

In the construction zone of a new Aquarium exhibit with John R.

We hadn’t seen John for about 3 years – he’d been working in the Bay Area with renowned ocean explorer and spokesperson, Sylvia Earle, but gave that up and moved his family to Baltimore to take what is turning out to be a dream job.  John and I had many one to one conversations over the years, as well as swims, and I am so happy he and the Aquarium connected when the top position opened up, since they’re perfect for each other.

After our visit with John, my wife and I reunited with Amtrak for the quick trip to Union Station in Washington.  As most readers know, D.C. has an incredible selection of world

The Lone Sailor of the impressive Navy Memorial

The Lone Sailor of the impressive Navy Memorial

class public spaces and museums.

Lobby of the National Postal Museum

Lobby of the National Postal Museum











We were especially glad to discover the under publicized and under appreciated Smithsonian National Postal Museum, which traces postal services from before our country’s founding.  At the museum we were Very Fortunate to connect with an extraordinary exhibit, Alphabetilately.  It was created 10 or so years ago by several Bay Area stamp collectors and 26 Bay Area graphics arts shops and merits, I believe, a more permanent home.

Panorama of a portion of the Alphabetilately exhibit, extended to October 15, 2015

Panorama of a portion of the Alphabetilately exhibit, extended to October 15, 2015

After being tourists for a couple days in D.C. with plenty of walking and $1 bus rides, we made our way (by the Metro of course) to Dulles and then United to SFO.

When thinking about your next holiday, consider international destinations but don’t overlook the U.S.!


Posted in Museums, Princeton, Schools & Colleges | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment