Banff Mountain Festival Preview


The Banff Mountain Festival.

Banff. When first heard about its mountain film festival, I had no idea where that was. If it hadn’t been for the winter Olympics a bunch of years back, I wouldn’t know much about Calgary either, but that’s just me being American. Truthfully, it sounded like someplace in Scandinavia. It sounded like someplace COLD.

It is. Banff sits in the Canadian Rockies, inside a national park, if you can believe that! So you might expect a certain kind of beauty. Very unlikely you’ll be prepared for this. Majestic is the word that kept popping up. And I know it’s a corny word, but it’s all I had to describe those peaks, towering right above us. Every direction you look. If I was younger and hipper, I might just call them insane. Or sick, especially if I were dropping into some near vertical couloir of powder – easy to imagine. Even now, with the trees just sporting their first dusting of snow.

On the weekend I arrive, my host is breaking out her ice axes for some waterfalls that had finally frozen over – in October mind you! – on a river she and her boyfriend kayaked only weeks earlier. Beneath a mountain they climb in summer and will ski a few weeks later. You get the idea. New season? Just adjust your gear. There’s always something to keep you exploring!

So it’s pretty easy to see how a mountain film festival takes root in this community. The 38th annual fest, so they’ve been at it awhile. In fact, together with ‘Mountain Film’ in Telluride, these two make up the grand-daddies of adventure film festivals which, if you’ve never been to one, is well worth the trek to get there. “Really?” you ask. Yes, really.  Here’s why…  

filmmakers Daniel Byers and Mike Scholtz, Oct 2012.
filmmakers Daniel Byers and Mike Scholtz, Oct 2012.

You see, every film festival has its ethos. Certainly Cannes and Sundance do. Even if we never get there, we know their promise. The red carpet & caviar crowd. The indie hipster crowd. Banff has nothing to do with that stuff. It has its own mythology, which is older, and deeper and far more resonant for most people. And that is the mythology of bravery. The mythology of conquest, exploration, and the human spirit. There is good reason these festivals were born in the mountains. Climbing the unclimbable is such a metaphor. It lies so deep within our psyche as to bring out all kinds of emotion when we watch these movies. These are stories of power. These are stories that call on us to be better. Better climbers maybe. But more likely, better at something else. Better people. Better friends. Maybe just better. Oh, and did I mention? These stories are all true.

Truthfully, I did not stay the entire nine days the festival was open. Through an error in judgement, I booked the first half, which is exactly the opposite of what you should do because the number of offerings builds towards its non-stop final weekend. Even still, I got a real good feel for the fest, the people who put it on (see my interview with festival director Joni Cooper) and why you should slot it into your schedule ASAP.

What to look forward to this year…

Although the schedule is not yet finalized there are already some outstanding films and filmmakers booked for the festival. Updates to the program can be found here, but these are “must see” films from our point of view.

Joy of Air

A mediation on the joys of getting airborne, however you do it. From director Bryan Smith & producer Fitz Cahall (of the Dirtbag Diaries). We’re a big fan of anything Fitz has his hand in. Always inspiring. This one’s no exception.

Gregg Treinish: A MoveShake Story

Once again, filmmaker Alexandria Bombach pulls us into a deeply moving story about someone making a difference in the world. This time through environmentalist Gregg Treinish, whose brilliant idea it was to match everyday adventurers with the scientists who need to data from the places they’re going. Simple. Profound. Moving. Like all of Alexandria’s work. If you don’t know, get to know them. These are people making a difference, in some truly courageous ways.

Ryan’s Story

There isn’t much you won’t like from Anson Fogel. One of four super talented filmmakers who make up Camp 4 Collective (together with Renan Ozturk, Jimmy Chin & Tim Kemple). We haven’t seen this short yet, but it’s about formerly homeless teenager Ryan Hudson, whose life turns around in big way in the outdoors. Knowing Anson, you’re in for a treat with this one.

Tim Cope

If you’ve never heard of Tim Cope, his appearance alone would be enough to get us on a plane to Banff. Years ago, looking for adventure in Asia, Tim hit upon the idea to retrace the routes of Genghis Khan and to cross what had been the world’s largest empire by horseback. It was not an easy journey. But it makes for a hell of a story, which he’ll be sharing in person Sunday Oct. 27th. Definitely worth the trek.

Climbing Anyone?

Also making an in person appearance is world class climber Sílvia Vidal, who headlines the fest’s climbing films on Friday November 1st and if that isn’t enough, you can join Conrad Anker himself on an early morning hike, Saturday November 2nd.

National Geographic Grants Workshop

Want to learn what it takes to get your expedition funded by National Geographic? Members of Nat Geo’s Expeditions Council will be on hand to lay it out for you. So bring those notebooks. Dreamtime is about to get real. Saturday November 2nd.

photo: mattias klum
photo: mattias klum

The Night Moths

The last category isn’t on the official schedule, but you’ll know them when you see them. For us, the magic of any great film festival has always been the “night moths.” That’s what we call those films that will never see wide release. Films that were surprising enough or original enough to make the cut going in – but who will never become the most popular kid at the party. They weren’t designed to be.

Like some exotic moth that lives only for one night, they spread their wings across the screen of our expectations. They are new, awkward, often flawed, sometimes magical. Their creators take the stage clumsily, like someone suddenly on the wrong end of a microphone. It is SUCH a labor to bring any film into existence – imagine bringing forth a being you know has only a one-in-a-hundred chance of living past its first day – that’s how rare it is for a little indie film to transcend these festivals and find a larger audience. And that’s what makes going so worthwhile.

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