5Point Film Fest: ‘Ode to Desolation’ | AspenTimes.com

5Point Film Fest: ‘Ode to Desolation’

Andrew Travers
The Aspen Times


What: ‘Ode to Desolation’ at at 5Point Adventure Film Festival

When: Program 3, Friday, Oct. 16, 7 p.m.

Where: eventive.org; 5pointfilm.org

How much: Single program $20; All Access Passes $55-$75

More info: Friday night’s program includes a total of 12 films. The festival runs through Sunday, Oct. 18.

Few man-made structures in the American forest are as shrouded in pop cultural lore as the fire lookout on Desolation Peak in the Cascade Mountains of Washington.

This is where Jack Kerouac spent the summer before “On the Road” was published as a firespotter and which the Beat Generation writer made into the stuff of legend in novels like “The Dharma Bums” and “Desolation Angels.” It’s become a destination for seekers of all stripes in the six-plus decades since then.

In recent years, pilgrims hiking to the peak to have been greeted by spotter Jim Henterly, the subject of the short documentary “Ode to Desolation,” which screens Friday night at the virtual 5Point Adventure Film Festival.

“Some people would think I’m rather eccentric, doing the living-along thing,” Henterly says in the film. “I find the lookout experience to be very full.”

The film details the history of fire lookouts in the U.S., which once numbered 9,000 locations around national forests. There are now just 60 of them staffed, many human eyeballs replaced by new technology, sensors and cameras. Henterly has been doing this work for a quarter-century, working with the National Park Service and U.S. Forest Service.

The film captures his great skill for noticing — his eyes always on the horizon looking for smoke — but also how as a naturalist he has come to understand the remote terrain of the peak, how as an artist he depicts in minute detail of all that he sees around him, and how as a historian he keeps alive the lore of Desolation Peak by talking with anyone who can hike there and spreading a message of conservation. He keeps a visitor’s log and annotates it with illustrations and notes.

“We are story animals,” he says. “That is the most human thing we do — story.”

So he keeps telling his and the mountain’s tale to anyone who will listen. Directed by Lindsey Hagen, the film was made a Vimeo Staff Pick in July and has already drawn an international audience online.

“Ode to Desolation” is one of 12 short films playing in Friday night’s virtual 5Point lineup. Hosted by 5Point regular Paddy O’Connell, the program begins at 7 p.m.