The 11th annual Mountainfilm on Tour Film Festival is set to kickoff Jan. 22, bringing more than 30 thought-provoking and educational films to Savannah over the course of four days.


Mountainfilm on Tour is a local offshoot of Mountainfilm, a documentary film festival based in Telluride, Colo., which showcases nonfiction films covering a range of topics including environmental protection, cultural diversity, epic adventures and social justice.


“Mountainfilm is about so much more than movies; our mission is to use the power of film to inspire audiences to create a better world,” said Leslie Carey, the film festival’s director.”


This year’s crop of films is as inspiring and intriguing as years past, tackling important issues from drug-addiction and its impact on family dynamics, to racial injustice and civil rights through the years, modern homelessness and the emotional impact of art.


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The film festival kicks off Wednesday, Jan. 22, with Mountainfilm for Students: Movies that Matter, an educational program which screens films for more than 4,500 students from Savannah Chatham County Public Schools, Effingham County Schools and area private schools. Evening film screenings begin 7 p.m. Thursday Jan. 23, with the showing of “17 Blocks” at Trustees Theater. The feature film follows four generations of a family in Washington, D.C., who struggle with addiction and violence in an underserved area of the city.


The film makes use of real home video footage, which the family began shooting in the late 1990s, chronicling their tragedies and triumphs through the years. Award-winning director, Davy Rothbart, will join the audience for a live Q&A session following the film.


“The Sanfords’ story, to me, is not only an urgent cry for change, but also a powerful, inspiring tale of love, loss, struggle, courage, resilience, and redemption,” Rothbart said. “More than anything, ’17 Blocks’ is a love story — a family soldiering on through ultimate heartbreak to discover the bonds that unite them.”


Rothbart said he is excited to visit Savannah for the first time and hopes the film will inspire audiences to engage in their own communities to foster positive change.


“As for ’17 Blocks,’ our hope is that anyone who watches the film will feel a call to make the world a better place for our country’s most vulnerable citizens — by fighting to make our most dangerous communities safer, and by looking for ways to engage with the people who live there,” Rothbart added.


Screenings continue Friday, Jan. 24 and Saturday, Jan. 25 at Trustees Theater with several short documentary films, including ’Ashes to Ashes,’ ’Broken,’ ’Rusty’s Ascent,’ ’Every Nine Minutes’ and ’Up to Speed.’


The documentary film, ’Ashes to Ashes,’ is a powerful look at racial dynamics in rural Georgia, following artist Winifred Rembert, who worked the cotton fields for years before joining the Civil Rights movement as a teen. Rembert shares his experience surviving a lynching attempt, which he processes through his art of leather work as a way to heal and move on.


Director Taylor Rees says the story of ’Ashes to Ashes’ brings awareness and education about the about the Civil Rights struggle to modern audiences, which is still a fight being fought.


“’Ashes to Ashes’ is relevant and important today because there is still a tremendous amount of work to be done with the effects of our shared history,” Rees shared. “And, it begs the question, is art always healing?”


It’s also the director’s first time to the area, and Rees says its thanks to festivals like Mountainfilm on Tour that give opportunities for important voices to be heard.


“I am so excited to be able to meet new people and share this story! I have never been to Savannah, but I hear a lot about it's amazing, passionate people and I look forward to hearing their stories as well,” Rees added.


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After Saturday’s film screenings, directors Dr. Richard Antoine White and William Smith join the audience to discuss their documentary film, ’R.A.W. Tuba,’ which shares the brother’s story of growing up homeless in inner-city Baltimore, only to later go on to acclaimed careers as professional musicians.


The festival also features several other events including Coffee and Conversation, a mixer with visiting filmmakers and film personalities at The Marshall House, 123 East Broughton St., at 10 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 25 and an organized bike ride/walk through historic Savannah, in conjunction with the Savannah Bicycle Campaign, leaving from The Marshall House at 11:30 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 25, and ending at Forsyth Park.