Film and TV

World Premiere of Mission Mt. Mangart a Peak Performance for Colorado Symphony

Brandon Marshall
The Colorado Symphony will present the world premiere of "Mission Mt. Mangart" on November 11.
In celebration of Veterans Day, the Colorado Symphony will present the world premiere of Mission Mt. Mangart, a documentary that was honored as the best history film at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival. The film recounts the history and achievements of the 10th Mountain Division through the eyes of filmmaker and professional skier Chris Anthony; on November 11, the symphony will perform portions of the soundtrack live at the beginning of the film and during its culminating scene.

This will be the symphony’s first movie screening at Boettcher Concert Hall since the beginning of the pandemic. “This film is a great way to welcome people back to the concert hall,” says Anthony Pierce, the symphony’s chief artistic officer. “It’s uniquely Colorado, and the story with the 10th Mountain Division is a beautiful story.”

Mission Mt. Mangart
traces the division’s history back to 1939, when the U.S. Army began recruiting professional skiers and mountaineers. They did much of their winter and mountain warfare training at Camp Hale near Leadville, and went on to fight with distinction in the Italian and Slovenian Alps during World War II. While it sustained heavy casualties, the division played a crucial role in mountain battles leading to Germany’s surrender and the Yugoslavian army’s retreat from Italy in May 1945.

A month later, members of the 10th Mountain Division held an epic ski race on Mt. Mangart in the Julian Alps, a featured part of the film.

Mission Mt. Mangart has its roots in Anthony’s experience as a professional skier. The 2018 Colorado Snowsports Hall of Fame inductee happened upon accounts of the 10th Mountain Division six years ago. Intrigued, he subsequently conducted numerous interviews in order to re-create the division's footsteps and ski tracks across the United States and into the Alps. The story was so compelling that he decided to make a film.

Anthony begins the seventy-minute documentary by describing “how the story found him, and he takes you on the journey,” Pierce explains. “He met with people who literally experienced some of these conflicts.”

The more Anthony heard, the more untold stories he chased down. Mission Mt. Mangart highlights little-known aspects of the division, including the role of Red Cross pioneer Deborah Bankart, brought to life in the film by alpine ski racer Mikaela Shiffrin.

Pierce learned of the documentary when he met Anthony in the summer of 2020. “He told me about the film and his dream of having it screened with the orchestra playing part of the soundtrack,” Pierce recalls.

The orchestra has frequently shown movies while performing their soundtracks, covering everything from the Harry Potter series to Star Wars to Elf, which it will screen this winter along with The Muppet Christmas Carol. The symphony will not play the entire score for Mission Mt. Mangart, however. The film includes video clips from the 1940s, promotional pieces made by the U.S. military that have a classic orchestral sound. “It’s awesome old footage of the troops training in Colorado," Pierce says. "The music that accompanies that is gorgeous on its own. It didn’t make sense for us to accompany everything.”

The rest of the score was composed by Carlo Nicolau, who worked with Pierce to make sure the pieces would complement the specific instrumentation of the eighty Colorado Symphony players. Nicolau re-orchestrated some portions of the works, and individual charts were created for each performer.

Scott O’Neil will conduct the orchestra during the screening. “He basically will study the film to make sure he coordinates the music as closely as possible to what’s happening on screen,” Pierce explains. “It’s not like a Star Wars movie, where cymbal crashes [coincide with] explosions on the screen.” But it’s still important to get the timing right to reinforce the film's emotion, he notes.

Anthony will introduce the film by recounting some of his own experiences. While the film will be particularly meaningful to veterans and descendants of those who served in the 10th Mountain Division, others will appreciate the Colorado-specific ties. Not only did division members train in this state, but several veterans went on to found ski areas in the state, including Arapahoe Basin, Aspen Mountain and Vail.

As a result, it only made sense to have the world premiere of Mission St. Mangart in Colorado. “It’s a great story," concludes Pierce, "and one that’s not often told or thoroughly understood.”

The Mission St. Mangart program starts at 7 p.m. Thursday, November 11, in Boettcher Concert Hall;  tickets are $15 for general admission, $45 for VIP on the Colorado Symphony website. The majority of the proceeds will benefit the Chris Anthony Youth Initiative Project, providing educational experiential enrichment field trips for financially challenged youth.