The Mountainfilm festival’s theme for the 41st year is equity, meaning equal opportunities for everyone. One particular film directed by Erik Osterholm, Ascending Afghanistan, focuses on thirteen Afghani women mountaineers pushing through the setbacks women in their country face.

Ascending Afghanistan illustrates the change that needs to happen throughout the world for women to rise up in their communities. This film also draws attention to the mountains and Telluride and Mountainfilm is similarly surrounded by mountains. The women of Ascending Afghanistan sought out to conquer climbing the tallest mountain in Afghanistan, Mount Noshaq, to show the men who oppressed them that “they vow to conquer mountains, or die trying” (HS 18). These women wanted to show that just because they are women, doesn’t mean that they can’t scale a risky mountain to reach top. According to the filmmakers during the Q&A, after this amazing expedition women still face threats to their lives especially after they came back. However, they are still trying to make a difference so the women that come behind them can feel safe enough to do something that makes them feel empowered.

Ascending Afghanistan

Making this film must’ve been an intense culture shock for some filmmakers working right on the mountain as the crew members couldn’t get close to the women or have mics on them. They had to improvise with a bit more danger involved to get the right shot and be able to hear everything the women say in clear and crisp way. Not only do the crew members partake in some culture shock, the women being filmed were in a completely different environment as well, and that is shown throughout the film as they struggle with hiding themselves from men towards the beginning of the film. However, once they get to the wide open space of the mountain, they are able to act more freely.  The free spirit that was never given to them back at home came out in extreme forms such as having anxiety attacks. They were finally able to show their emotions and not hide them momentarily. Even though this was a grueling experience this gave these women leadership skills that will last their entire lives.

The leading program of this expedition is called Ascend, hence the title of the film Ascending Afghanistan. Ascend “is the largest, no-profit Pan-Asian organization for business professionals in North America. [They strive to] enhance the presence and influence of current and future Pan-Asian business leaders and serve as a collective voice for Pan-Asian business communities” (ascendleadership.org). Without the Ascend organization, the progress to create women leaders in Afghanistan and other middle eastern countries would not be as far along as it is.

This film was a perfect representation of what Mountainfilm is all about, which is equity, sports, and great films!

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Madeline Peterson

I am an English Writing and Film Studies major at Winona State University.