29 March 2018
The Banff Mountain Film Festival
Reviewed by Adam McCormack
Star rating ****
Banff is a long way to go to watch films, but happily the smart people behind the annual film and book festival appreciate that there is a global audience for films about the great outdoors. The festival takes place each year from the end of October in Banff with the best films selected to go on a tour, which includes the UK until 2nd May. There are so many films that are worthy of a wide audience that they need two evenings to cover them all. We saw the “Red” evening (as opposed to the “Blue”) and many will want to try to see both.
Each evening features seven films. Four are just a few minutes long, two are over 20 minutes, and there is one longer film of a little over 50 minutes. This, together with the wide range of subject matter, makes for a highly varied and entertaining evening. The first short but charming film is Imagination, where a small child sits in the back of a car watching trick skiers follow him, skiing over roofs, cars and railings, into the village while his parents remain oblivious. The film Edges features a 90-year old figure skater, Yvonne Dowlen, who was still competing (against 50-year olds) but skated most days purely for the love of it. Those of us that have skied the Valle Blanche will appreciate Ice Call where freeride skier Sam Favret negotiates the Mer de Glace via the areas that the rest of us ski around or over. In Intersection, extreme mountain biker and artist Micalya Gatto interprets footage of some hairy bike rides across ridges and through forests with her own artwork. These short films are, to varying degrees, enchanting and exhilarating, but the show really delivers in its longer pieces. It is here that we get to grips with the type of characters that are driven to do things that lie beyond the imagination of most.
Into Twin Galaxies features three kayakers who, with research that consists largely of looking at a Google Earth map from 2012, decide to trek across Greenland to kayak the northernmost river ever paddled. This involves dragging the kayaks across the ice, until they can progress on skis being towed by kites. While not the most articulate group, their stoicism in getting through injury while kite surfing and then finding that the lake they were trekking to had no apparent river outlet, is a joy to behold. For both the audience and the kayakers the efforts are ultimately rewarded with some incredible footage of them negotiating rapids that it is difficult to believe would be humanly possible. Ben Page in Frozen Road is much more able to express himself as he negotiates the Canadian Arctic on a bike – alone. We are left in no doubt about the physical and mental difficulty of his endeavor, but cannot stifle a smile as his soliloquies feature a beard with ever increasing quantities of ice. Finally, there is Stumped; a joyous celebration of disregarding of physical challenges. Maureen Beck was borne without a lower left arm, but this has not prevented her from becoming a highly accomplished climber. The film covers her attempts to tackle a tough grade 5.12 climb, helped by a friend with a prosthetic leg. While her efforts to wedge her stump into crevices to help propel her across a rock face, only to fail repeatedly, might be difficult to watch, this is in fact a very amusing film. Maureen’s variety of descriptions as to how she may have lost her arm give the film a light start and the decision to drink a large quantity of beer that would otherwise have escaped from some broken cans (before climbing) show that she, and her supporters, do not take themselves too seriously. Maureen does not regard herself as disabled and, by the end of the film, neither do we.
Most of us, while we may love outdoor pursuits, would not dream of embarking on any of these adventures. How wonderful then that we can get a great insight into the motivations of people who go to extremes, and experience the same thrills that they do, from the comfort of a theatre seat. Check online to see when it is coming to a cinema near you at www.banff-uk.com.