A Night at the Brilliant Banff Mountain Film Festival Tour

Rob Howard / 08.05.2023
Rafael Bridi walking on clouds

This year’s Banff Mountain Film Festival tour is underway around the world, and as always it’s a feast of outdoor and adventure filming and entertainment.  The best films are chosen from the festival and compiled into a varied show of short films covering different sports and subjects, shot in stunning locations around the world.

In the UK and Ireland tour there are two different programmes (Red and Blue), touring 60 locations in Spring and Autumn, with 6 films in red and 8 in blue.  The tour has a regular following and most venues sell out quickly, so it’s a good idea to book early.

I saw the Red Programme which featured kayaking on Baffin Island, slacklining between hot air balloons, alpine skiing and climbing beneath a UK motorway bridge, for several days non-stop. 

The programme opened on Baffin Island, following a self-filmed, lightweight and exploratory 45 day trip to Baffin Island by Erik Boomer and Sarah McNair-Landry.  It was presented in a fun way as a summer vacation and a romantic getaway, but of course this pair has a different idea of getaway summer activities to most.  McNair-Landry is the first women to be a Master Polar Guide and Boomer is a legendary extreme kayaker (who came into another film later in the programme).

They combined climbing objectives, pushing their limits and skill sets in a sport neither specialise in, and kayaking descents.  McNair-Landry isn’t a kayaker either, but has a great teacher, and Boomer took on some extreme first descents. Perhaps the most striking moment of the film was the expression of trust and fear, then relief, from McNair-Landy as she watched those descents.

Perhaps even more heart stopping, and visually stunning was the 7 minute short called ‘Walking on Clouds’.  This followed Rafael Bridi as he took slacklining to new heights by succeeding in walking between two hot-air balloons, 2000 feet above Praia Grande in Brazil.

By this stage the audience may have been wondering about the motivations of these exceptional athletes, and the third film, the longest of the night at 45 minutes, explored the motivations and talents of French kayaker Nouria Newman.  You might have seen some of the many fantastic films she has made with Red Bull, and ‘Wild Waters’ looks back over her career (starting as an Olympic kayaker) and she discusses her motivation and the expectations placed on her as a female athlete, rather than just an athlete.

The story is told in the context of her attempt to become the first female to run a 100 foot waterfall in Ecuador and it’s a riveting watch.  Spoiler alert, she succeeds, but by that stage of the film it’s no surprise as her determination and unique talent, attested to by the likes of Erik Boomer, are clear.  It’s a skilfully directed documentary profile of an incredible athlete.

‘Flow’ is another visual joy following skier Sam Favret as he skis around the closed resorts of Chamonix in the unusual winter of 2021, enjoying a playground returned briefly to its natural state, on his own.

‘Bridge Boys’ is a very different film, moving the location from Alpine Aiguilles to the underside of a motorway Bridge in Devon, UK.   The question ‘Why’ is the obvious one, and for climbers Pete Whittaker and Tom Randall it was a way to find a new challenge in their speciality of crack climbing during lockdown.  First they had to find the right bridge, with the right crack, which wasn’t easy, then figure how to climb it and cope with days being suspended under the concrete bridge and sustained technical climbing along a 2,600 ft groove.  It was ferocious challenge, taking their brand of climbing to an extreme, stripped of the reward or motivation being in a mountain location or topping out.

Finally, in the red programme the film ‘The Nine Wheels’, followed the extraordinary nomadic, mountain biking life of the Schneeberger family.  Parents Toni and Laetitia, and Emric (10) and Raoul (13) live in a motor home touring around France and Europe between mountain bike parks.  The film is called Nine Wheels because Laetitia suffers from cerebellar ataxia and it was this untreatable and debilitating diagnosis which prompted Toni to sell up his paragliding business and the family to embrace a nomadic life.

It’s an emotional film.  The young boys are happy with their life of travel, riding and home schooling, and they have exceptional riding talents which we see in the film.  Laetitia talks about spending her time living with her family, rather than slowly dying, and still enjoying riding and being outdoors.  At the time of filming the boys didn’t know about their mother’s condition, but once the film was released that changed, as she explained in Dec. 2022.

The boys saw the film, so I explained about my cerebellar ataxia saying that there’s no treatment but to be happy, fit and patient is my way to enjoy life!  We are all different, my life is different but it doesn’t mean that I can’t be happy. I love them, I love Toni, I love Festi, I love my life!

“We are convinced that we found the right way of life.  We can spend a lot of time together and the boys are so mature, they are learning very quickly to be independent! They are doing sport everyday and outside. 

“Toni is planning to fly (paragliding) again and even if I am more and more dependent, as long as I am with my family, we are happy, I can ride my trike and we are surrounded by loving, caring people, life is beautiful!”

You see all of the tour dates at https://www.banff-uk.com/ and internationally at https://www.banffcentre.ca/banffmountainfestival/tour

If you plan on going to see the shows it’s advisable to book early, and if you can’t make it one of the venues there are virtual viewing passes which allow you to download past programmes and see them at home.

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