Mountainfilm gave its Moving Mountains prize jury, consisting of Grammy-winning artist Shawn Colvin, documentarian Chris Paine, HBO Vice President Nancy Abraham, and me, the challenging privilege of selecting one nonprofit from six strong candidates. Each of the candidates was represented by a film documenting their work, and the festival pledged each nonprofit at least $400.
In 2008, the grand prize was $5,000, and was won by my favorite organization, Free The Slaves, the American wing of the world’s oldest human rights group. Within a month, Free The Slaves had used the money to rescue and to begin the rehabilitation of ten child slaves in Ghana.
This year, the economic downturn had reduced the prize to $3,000. Furthermore, the top two contenders were both supremely worthy causes, but our mandate was to give just one prize. In September 2007, a handful of courageous local journalists, the Democratic Voice of Burma, armed only with video cameras, brought the world’s attention to the horrors committed by the generals in their suppression of the Buddhist monk-led freedom movement. Their story was chronicled in Burma VJ: Reporting from a Closed Country.
For two decades, Dr. Rick Hodes has dedicated his life to providing medical care to Ethiopians, many with very severe deformities, who would otherwise go untreated. His is angelic work, which encompasses all aspects of his life, and is chronicled beautifully in the spare yet moving film, Making the Crooked Straight.
As a jury, we agreed that some causes are too important to be nickel-and-dimed. We each made pledges to shore up the prize money. Within hours, other festival participants pledged even grander amounts. In the end, we didn’t have to choose between the top two: Hodes’ operation and the Democratic Voice of Burma will receive $5000 each. Both causes are worthy of much larger donations, but the awards nonetheless demonstrate why Mountainfilm is on a higher plane than most other film festivals: Its participants not only celebrate the indomitable human spirit, but also commit to reinforcing it.