The documentary “High Ground” follows veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars who set out to climb the 20,000-foot high Himalayan giant Mount Lobuche with blind adventurer Erik Weihenmayer as one of their guides. “High Ground” is one of the feature-length documentaries to be shown during the Moab International Film Festival this weekend. [Courtesy photo]

After many months of planning, the first-ever Moab International Film Festival begins this week. The three-day festival will feature full-length films and documentaries, as well as several shorts Friday, Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 20, 21 and 22.

Nathan Wynn, the director of administrative affairs for the new festival, said that the work of 16 judges and 30 volunteers is paying off.

“Our goal was to have excellent top quality films that would get noticed,” Wynn said.

They went heavy on film recruiting with the goal to review 1000 films. More than 1400 films were submitted. Sixteen judges selected a full weekend’s worth of feature-length films, documentaries, as well as short-length films.

“Half the tickets are already sold,” said Scott Ibex, marketing director for the festival.

Most tickets are $5 per movie; and a festival pass is $30.

There are two outdoor movie nights available at the Moab Backyard Theater on Friday and Saturday evenings. The outdoor screenings are made possible through the donation of a movie projector by the Canyonlands Film Society.

“It’ll be free for everybody,” Ibex said. “Free movies. Free popcorn.”

The Friday night outdoor movie night will feature family-friendly animation, shorts and a “Lady B’s First Winter” – a short documentary that follows an avalanche rescue dog in-training from puppy to adulthood with the Telluride, Colo., Ski Patrol. Director Scott Ransom will be conducting an audience question and answer session after the film at the Backyard Theater.

The Saturday outdoor movie night will screen “Hill Country Troubadour” a documentary that tells the story of Richard Johnston, a Beale Street musician who entertains audiences in Memphis,

Tenn., with the rhythms of Mississippi hillcountry blues. Two additional films will be shown as well.

A screening of “Bidder 70” at Star Hall will kick off the festival at 5 p.m., on Friday.

Filmmakers George and Beth Gage started filming “Bidder 70” just weeks after Tim DeChristopher disrupted a Bureau of Land Management oil and gas lease sale that included acreage near Arches and Canyonlands national parks. The act of civil disobedience landed DeChristopher in jail.

There will be additional updated footage that celebrates Christopher’s release from incarceration.

Both George and Beth Gage will be there to answer questions after the film, as well as Ashley Anderson of Peaceful Uprising, a non-profit that was originally created to support DeChristopher after the auction. The group now actively works for climate justice through peaceful protests.

Following “Bidder 70” is the documentary “The Ghost Army”, by Rick Beyer.

“The Ghost Army” shows how deception and art worked together as American G.I.s tricked the enemy into thinking they were facing a massive number of troops with rubber tanks, sound effects and illusions during WWII.

Many of the G.I.s later became famous artists, and included fashion designer Bill Blass.

Beyer, writer and director of the film, will be at the screening to introduce the film to the audience.

“It’s fantastic,” Wynn said. “It’s a little known story about artists in wartime that is now available through recently declassified information.”

While Wynn was reviewing films as a judge, he was impressed within seconds.

“It just grabbed you and kept you watching,” Wynn said.

“The Ghost Army” will be shown at 7:30 p.m., Friday, Sept. 20.

“KING: A Filmed Record Montgomery to Memphis” will be shown at 7:30 p.m., Saturday at Star Hall.

The documentary was nominated for an Academy Award and won admission into the National Film Registry.

This film was originally shown at theaters as a “one-time-only” event on March 24, 1970. The proceeds from the $5 admission price was donated to the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Special Fund.

It is now available for viewing since it was digitally remastered.

“We first heard about it on Democracy Now,” said Wynn of the news radio program aired on KZMU Moab Public Radio. “We consider this a piece of historical significance,” Wynn said.

The two-part, three-hour documentary was created with mostly archival footage of the eight-year period leading up to the 1963 March on Washington, D.C., and the legendary “I have a Dream Speech”.

“Because we feel the documentary is of such great historical and educational value, we will be offering a special screening for area high school students,” Wynn said.

Richard Kaplan, the associate producer of the documentary, will introduce the film at a special screening for Grand County High School students, as well as for the general public Saturday evening at Star Hall.

The documentary “High Ground” will be shown Sunday afternoon at Star Hall. The film won the Cadillac Audience Award at Vail, the People’s Choice Award at the Boulder International Film Festival, and the Audience Award for Best Documentary at the Newport Beach Film Festival. The film follows eleven veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan that join an expedition to climb the 20,000 foot Himalayan giant Mount Lobuche.

With a team of Everest mountain climbers and blind adventurer Erik Weihenmayer as their guides, they set out on a climb to reach the top in an attempt to heal the emotional and physical wounds from war. The veterans represent nearly every branch of the military and also have a Gold Star Mom who joins their trek. Three-time Emmy winner Michael Brown provides the cinematography.

Sunday evening will feature a screening of “The New Black”. The airing of the documentary is also a kick-off during Gay Adventure Week, as part of the Moab Pride Festival. The documentary by Yoruba Richen explores how the African-American community is handling the issue of gay rights, particularly the recent gay marriage movement.

The film documents activists, families and clergy on both sides of the campaign to legalize gay marriage in Maryland.

“This film can help bring people together despite how they feel about marriage equality,” said Nathan Wynn, Director of Administrative Affairs for the Moab International Film Festival. “Rather than separate the divide, this film brings people together.”

The documentary won the audience award for best feature at the American Film Institute Docs.

It will be shown at 7 p.m., Sunday, Sept. 22 at Star Hall.