Mountainfilm In Telluride: "Barefoot To Timbuktu" Featured

[click “Play” to listen to Susan’s conversation with Ernst Aebi]

BioAebi01 Ernst Aebi, both the man and his film, “Barefoot to Timbuktu,” embodies the ideals of Mountainfilm in Telluride, this year May 28 – May 31. The annual gathering of a tribe, more evangelists really, is dedicated to saving the world one person, one place, one species, one story or idea at a time.

Aebi is Indiana Jones with a socio-environmental consciousness, who walked to the North Pole from Siberia, lived for a while off the land in the Canadian Arctic, and another time with reindeer herders in Siberia. Aebi went up the Rio Negro, crossed the Amazon jungle in a dugout on the Casiciares to the Orinocco, raced across the Sahara in the Paris-Dakar rally, sailed across the Atlantic four times and was a “guest” of the Chinese government for illegally entering into western Tibet. ( And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.) The swashbuckling globetrotter and Renaissance man also holds degrees in electronics and political science.

DSC03014 Aebi, a Swiss native, once earned a living as a successful artist. His paintings hang in museums and he’s had 25 solo exhibitions and loads of group shows. The New York Times, Time, the Harvard Business Review, Harper’s, etc. commissioned him to do illustrations. But making art is not really how Aebi filled his piggy bank. He did that by becoming one of the pioneers in the transformation of New York’s SoHo, converting abandoned factory spaces 50 in all, into luxury lofts just as the real estate market was exploding.  But the punch line to this story is not Ernst Aebi’s good fortune. It is what did with his bucks.

Close on the heels of his real estate coup, in the late 1980s, Aebi went out seeking new challenges and found Mali and a dying oasis. The adventure that led to the “Barefoot in Timbuktu” begins.

Seven days by camel out of Timbuktu, the legendary “End of the World”, Ernst Aebi stumbles on Araouane, a formerly prosperous water station for trans-Saharan caravans. The now desolate settlement is about to be abandoned by the few remaining, and slowly starving former slaves of the oasis’ erstwhile rulers. Using his personal funds Aebi decides to help. He ends up staying three years. In the early nineties, however, war breaks out in Mali, and Aebi is forced out of the country. He leaves behind a flourishing oasis and friends who long for his return.

Twenty years later, the Saharan region has changed for the worse. The place has become a hotbed for heavily armed warring factions and bandits. Aebi nevertheless manages to return, but this time with a military escort and a film crew under the direction of Martina Egi. His emotional journey of hope, anticipation, and desire finally gets told in “Barefoot in Timbuktu,” a documentary about a wild and crazy adventurer and his obsession with the Sahara desert and its people.

“Barefoot to Timbuktu” screens twice over the weekend: Sunday morning and late Monday morning at the Nugget.

Learn more from the horse’s mouth, click the “play” button and listen to Ernst Aebi’s podcast.
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