The Banff Film Festival - An Inside View of the Adventure Lifestyle

Rob Howard / 27.11.2021
The Ocean to Asgard team / © Jacob Cook

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The Banff International Mountain Film Festival World Tour has been back on the road in the UK.  It’s an annual show that’s part of our family calendar, and like so many others, we’d missed it last year, though it has to be said the small provincial theatre we returned to was only half full.  (There is still a hard road back for shows and events, and it was ironic that going to a theatre seemed like a risk ... given the subjects of the show we all went to watch.)

Those who did go anticipated another great selection of films, chosen from 377 entered into the latest Banff Mountain Film and Book Festival.  Anyone new to the tour might have been a bit surprised by what they saw however.  If they went expecting outdoor and adventure films to be all thumping music, macho attitudes and epic adventures they might even have been disappointed.

We saw the Green film programme, and while there were definitely some epic adventures, that wasn’t really what the film selection was all about. (The exception, perhaps, was the 3 minute film called ‘Natural Mystic’ showing Sam Favret’s astonishing ski descents of the Aiguilles Rouges of Chamonix.)

The mood was set by the opening film, ‘The Chairlift’, which was a celebration of the humble, and taken for granted, chairlift.  Described by film maker Mike Douglas as “the single greatest invention in the history of modern skiing” the film turned the camera on the ski communities who depend on the lifts. There were stories of new friends made, sat, knees touching on the slow climb, and of a lifestyle in which the lifts were a central, and previously overlooked, part.

Next up was ‘My Last Day of Summer’ by rider and artist Kristina Wayte, who sketches mountain bike scenes when she is injured and can’t ride. The story follows 13 year Julia as she waits for her bike to be fixed in time to ride on that elusive last day of summer. While waiting, she reads a mountain bike comic and is transported onto the trails she loves to ride.  Sketches and her imagined rides intermix in a dynamic fantasy of trail riding and the film won the award for Creative Excellence at the festival.

The first of two long features was ‘The Ghosts Above’, following a National Geographic expedition to Everest to check a spot identified as possibly the last resting place of Sandy Irvine.  They reached the spot and nothing was to be found, but it’s really incidental to the film, which is narrated and produced by photographer, artist and climber Renan Ozturk.

Filmed in 2019, dubbed ‘the year that broke Everest’, it explores the relationship of exploitation and dependence with the climbing Sherpas, the lure of reaching the summit set against the risks of the death zone, and the commercialisation of the mountain.

It’s a complex film, but remains engaging throughout and the stunning still photographs taken by Ozturk are weaved into the story.  Whenever he is shown, even if it is at over 27,000 feet, bent over in a gale which is ripping camp apart, he has his camera to his eye.

The other long feature is ‘Ocean to Asgard’, which is a simpler and more joyous story.  It follows 4 young climbers on a 40 day trip to Baffin Island, packrafting and big wall climbing.  The team made some big wall first ascents, including one on Asgard, and it’s the energy of the friends and their sheer enjoyment of what they are doing which makes the film. Not many rivers in the Arctic Circle have been paddled in a pink, inflatable flamingo!

Much (possibly all) of the footage was self-shot, with the skill learned from a YouTube savvy generation, and it’s so well edited it’s not really apparent.

Lastly, there’s ‘The Long Today’ filmed by Niobe Thompson, who persuaded his father, Jamie, to take on a challenging canoe trip in the Canadian wilderness for this 70th birthday.  They set off in an antique, hand crafted canoe, built by Jamie, swam rapids and made some extreme portages, but the heart of the film is about father and son.

The journey is a way for Niobe to come to terms with his father (and himself) ageing, to reconnect with the wild and each other, and to relearn the importance of living in the moment.  It’s a well titled film.

The films were more about the people and the way bonds are formed in the outdoors, than about what they set out to do, or even where they went. The big walls of Baffin Island and the views from the summit of Everest were breathtaking of course, but in this set of films they were background for the real subjects.

The current tour has only a few dates left this year, but returns with a new programme from January through to May next year.  You can find more details and book tickets at https://www.banff-uk.com/

To find out which other countries the tour visits see; https://www.banffcentre.ca/banffmountainfestival/tour

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