10th Mountain Division documentary ‘Mission Mt. Mangart’ makes its debut in Denver
Chris Anthony’s film premiere was accompanied by a Veterans Day performance from the Colorado Symphony
DENVER — Local filmmaker Chris Anthony debuted his magnum opus film, “Mission Mt. Mangart,” Thursday in a Veterans Day celebration at Boettcher Concert Hall.
In a collaborative performance with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra, the event recognized veterans while also serving as the world premiere of Anthony’s film, which shares the little-known characters and adventures of the 10th Mountain Division ski troopers in World War II.
As the symphony played songs from the Army, Navy, Marines and Coast Guard in an armed forces salute, conductor Scott O’Neil asked that veterans from each branch of the military stand during the songs while the crowd applauded them.
“We thank you for your service,” O’Neil said to the many who stood.
Anthony’s film contains an original score from composer Carlo Nicolau; Anthony said Nicolau’s music was the unseen actor in the film, adding emotion to the scenes, and the symphony premiere served as a way to bring that actor to life.
Along with the armed forces salute, blues vocalist Erica Brown performed a powerful rendition of “America the Beautiful” accompanied by a symphony arrangement by O’Neil, and the symphony also played four original songs by Nicolau which were created for the film.
“It’s unbelievable what they’ve done,” Anthony said of the symphony. “Your support of this symphony is going to the most professional group I’ve ever seen.”
If it wasn’t such a serious endeavor, Anthony’s film could set up like an old joke: “So, an American guy walks into a bar in Europe and says, ‘I noticed the 10th Mountain Division is popular here.'”
In Anthony’s case, the bar is the family hotel of Vail local Marco Tonazzi — located in Italy, near the former Yugoslivian border — and the observation about the 10th’s popularity there is prompted by the fact that a manuscript detailing the 10th’s involvement in the region awaited Anthony at the hotel.
The story’s essence, especially with its musical accompaniment, is the exemplification of the role that art can play in history, and the power of art in provoking thought and preserving moments for others to find.
In his own artful retelling, Anthony describes how the manuscript — which was left for him at the hotel by a retired brigadier general from Slovenia — contained a watercolor painting created by a 10th Mountain Division trooper in 1945, which sent Anthony on a journey to answer the question of how and why the 10th Mountain Division came to be in that location at that time.
“How did the 10th Mountain Division end up in this mountain town near the Yugoslavian border next to Mt. Mangart, rather than on ships headed back to North America?” Anthony asked.
It’s a question not easily answered in the U.S.. However, in the mountainous region of Europe, near the former Yugoslavian border, the 10th have become legend for the ski race they hosted on Mt. Mangart. In realizing he knew not only the mountain on which the ski race was held but the building depicted in the watercolor painting, Anthony, through his film, said he is serving as fate’s messenger in bringing lore that’s well known in one small area of the world to another interested in hearing those tales.
While the 10th Mountain Division is known for heroic Alpine battles, such as the assaults on Riva Ridge and Mt. Belvedere, Anthony chose to focus only briefly on those moments, while going more in-depth on stories like that of ski trooper Deborah Bankart, a woman in 10th Mountain Division, whom Nicolau also created a song for that received the full treatment the Colorado symphony on Thursday.
The film also tells the story of Mexican American 10th Mountain trooper Cruz Rios, shows footage of a sunken DUKW boat that killed 24 soldiers from the 10th and taps into the geography of the Julian Alps while giving the most accurate depiction imaginable of what the 10th Mountain Division’s ski race on Mt. Mangart in June 1945 might have looked like.
10th on the 11th
The premiere received a tremendous response from the audience, with ovations throughout.
Near the end of the film, the symphony performed live as the story reached its dramatic conclusion, performing songs “Mangart Finale” and “Spirit of the 10th” by Nicolau.
Anthony said he couldn’t think of a better way to debut the documentary — on Veterans Day, with the symphony playing Nicolau’s music, in front of a packed house of hundreds at a spectacular concert hall in Denver.
And while the film debut was a tribute to the veterans of the 10th Mountain Division, in many ways, Anthony said, it was also for the kids in the audience.
Anthony said his main goal has always been to create teaching tools to bring to classrooms in Colorado, and this film will serve as exactly that. Through his youth project, Anthony reaches hundreds of kids each year providing on-snow opportunities, as well as ski-related lessons like that of “Mission Mt. Mangart.”
In his opening remarks, Anthony addressed his mission to serve the youth of Colorado in introducing his mission to visit Mangart and retell the lost stories there.
“To all the children who are here: This is proof that dreams really can come true,” Anthony said.
“Mission Mt. Mangart” will play at the Vilar Performing Arts Center on Dec. 1.