Concrete’s Mountain Film Festival is a peak experience

From movies to photography, nature takes center stage
May 28, 2023 at 5:00 a.m.
“Mount Shuksan Picture Lake” by Kelly Siebecke will be part of an art reception featuring local photographers. The event kicks off the Mountain Film Festival, which takes place June 1–4 at the Concrete Theatre.
“Mount Shuksan Picture Lake” by Kelly Siebecke will be part of an art reception featuring local photographers. The event kicks off the Mountain Film Festival, which takes place June 1–4 at the Concrete Theatre. (Photo courtesy of Kelly Siebecke)

Staff Reporter

Although the second annual Mountain Film Festival happening June 1–4 at the Concrete Theatre takes place indoors, the event is meant to draw attention to the natural beauty surrounding the Skagit County town. 

“I’m just a few minutes away from quiet trails in old-growth forests, and beautiful lakes and rivers,” event organizer Valerie Stafford said. “There’s a mountain out of every one of my windows.” 

Stafford — who is also the Concrete Chamber of Commerce president and co-owner of the theater where the action is taking place — grew up in Concrete, but lived elsewhere for a couple of decades before deciding to come back with the goal of getting more involved in the community. Another reason she said she returned is because she missed the mountains.

So it is that peaks both near and far will be in the spotlight during the four-day event, which in addition to screening a number of outdoors-focused shorts and feature films devoted to hiking, biking, running, snow sports and climbing, will also include presentations, workshops and an art exhibition devoted to mountain photography. 

The collection of mountain images created by local photographers will kick off the Mountain Film Festival, with an opening reception at 6 p.m. Thursday, June 1 in the new Act One Art Gallery.

Stafford will subsequently introduce the festival, followed by showings of “Spirit of the Peaks” — which will include input by guest speakers Jay Bowen and Kay Knott and members of the Upper Skagit Tribe sharing stories and information  — and a return screening of “This Mountain Life,” a documentary telling the tale of a mother-daughter team attempting a 2,300-kilometer ski trek from Canada to Alaska through the dicey Coast Mountains. 

photo  Tania Halik and her daughter Martina Halik are the focus of “This Mountain Life,” which shows during the Mountain Film Festival taking place June 1–4 in Concrete. The documentary tells the tale of the duo's 2,300-kilometer ski trek from Canada to Alaska through the dicey Coast Mountains. (Photo courtesy of Peg Leg Films, "This Mountain Life")  

Friday’s double-feature will bring two climbing movies made 43 years apart,  2017’s “The Dawn Wall” and 1975’s “The Eiger Sanction.” The first is a documentary about American rock climbers Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson’s attempt to climb the titular locale — a 3,000-foot rock face in Yosemite National Park.

The second is a film directed by and starring Clint Eastwood, who plays an art professor/pro assassin avenging the murder of an old friend, in which the iconic actor performed all but one of the climbing scenes himself.

Note: Local climbing legend Jeremy Akers will be on hand to give an update on the Concrete Silos Climbing Wall. 

Saturday offers a pastiche of events, starting with a workshop on mountain photography with Andy Porter; presentations and short films relating to women sharing how they got started in their sport (including Bellingham-based panelists Liz Rankin and Ali Dahl); details about a hiking contest, Trek for Treasure; an author discussion with Judy Bentley regarding the book “Hiking Washington’s History”; and a viewing and discussion of the film “Wanted: Grizzly Bears?” with local ecologist and filmmaker Chris Morgan.

Saturday’s events will end with a screening of “From Broken to Breaking,” following elite ultra-runner Michael McKnight. The Utah-based athlete will announce the film and be interviewed by Rankin, host of the Skagit Storytellers podcast and a fellow ultra-runner. Alicia Jenkins, a Bellingham-based running coach, will join in the discussion, which will likely touch on the physical and mental challenges McKnight overcame on his way to winning the Cocodona 250 in Arizona in early May.

McKnight will also be in attendance at that morning’s 5K with a local youth-focused running group, the Concrete Crushers. 

photo  Ultra-runner Mike McKnight will join the festival to talk about his challenges and wins related to the documentary "From Broken to Breaking." (Photo courtesy of Mike McKnight)  

“He's an inspiration story because he was bullied as a kid for being overweight,” Rankin said. “He’s from a small town. He never felt like he fit in. The coach of the running group will show the film to the kids a couple days before the race and then tell them that he'll be running with them … I don't think it's hyperbole to say this will change the trajectory of a kid's life that day. Maybe more than one, but one for sure. I am certain of it.”

Sunday, June 4 wraps up the Mountain Film Festival with live music by the Yankee Drivers; a show with wildlife photographer Leah Serna (whose work can also be seen in the Act One Art Gallery Show); and short films chronicling glacier and mountain experiences both mind-blowing and heart-stopping.

The final film on the roster, “Dirtbag: The Legend of Fred Beckey,” delves into the life of the rebel mountaineer whose adventures began in Washington’s North Cascades range in the 1930s.

Much like the inaugural event last spring, the mix of films, presentations and workshops on the roster this year appears to offer something for everyone, whether they’re a long-distance runner or someone who simply wants to get outside on a regular basis.

At last year’s festival, Stafford said, people seemed to be most interested in the interactive presentations where guest speakers talked about their personal experiences, or the classes and programs.

“The feature-length movies were well attended, but participants told me they most appreciated the short films created by local and regional filmmakers, and the conversations and engagement,” Stafford said. “I saw a lot of people sitting in groups after the sessions, talking among themselves, sharing info and making plans to get together for hikes, etc. It felt like a lot of good connections were made. That was definitely an unexpected bonus!”

The Mountain Film Festival takes place June 1–4 at the Concrete Theatre, 45920 Main Street. Thursday’s event is free, Friday’s double feature is $10, and Saturday and Sunday’s longer lineups are $20. Info:

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