February 27, 2008

BANFF: Bad Ass 'n' Film Festivities

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On Friday, Feb. 22, the Banff Mountain Film Festival World Tour arrived in Call Auditorium for its annual appearance at Cornell University. For those of you who are (sadly) unfamiliar with the Banff Festival … it is the shit. More officially though, the festival is an annual film, book and photography competition held in November at Lake Louise ski resort in Banff, Canada (near Calgary). Two years ago on Feb. 22nd, I was actually skiing at Lake Louise. Now I just live vicariously through the films, though they are usually bad-ass to the point of making me feel bad about myself. In any case … anyone and everyone can make submissions to the festival, and winners are chosen in categories like “Best Film on Mountain Environment” and “Best Film on Climbing.” The festival is intended to promote “Mountain Culture” and films wax eloquent on environmental issues, traditional mountain cultures and, in general, nature and outdoor adventuring.
After the festival, the finalists — 68 films this year — take to the road in a grand tour around the world, concentrated in North America reaching cities across the globe. Potential viewers at each venue vote beforehand on which nine or ten films they wish to see in their hometown.
Cornell once again voted for a series of superb films, though in my humble opinion, last year’s show was better. This year (which was sold out for the second year in a row) featured ten films ranging in length from two minutes to 52 minutes. Many of the films chosen were actually very similar to ones shown at
last year’s festival — presumably because people were pleased with the past selections. Unfortunately though, this meant I found myself comparing many of the films, and, in several cases, found myself preferring last year’s. Two films in particular fell flat when compared to their counterparts from last year, though they were perfectly good films themselves.
The first of these was called Across the Himalaya, directed by John Murray of Ireland. The 52-minute documentary-style film followed the annual migration (on foot) of a small tribe of Buddhist yak herders from their home in the Himalayas to their winter lodgings in the Nepalese village of Harikut. It was a wonderful and breathtaking story, but the production paled in comparison to the power and profundity of last year’s 52-minute film on mountain culture, the
People’s Choice award, Asiemut, directed and produced by Oliver Higgins and Mélanie Carrier (Canada).
My least favorite film this year was actually one of the ones I had been most looking forward to. The film boasted a clever name and little else. It was directed by Bjorn Enga of Canada, featured world-renowned mountain biker Ryan Leech and was entitled Trial and Error (specific mountain biking bikes are called ‘trials’ bikes — you learn something new every day, eh?). So, if you know anything about Ryan Leech, you would have expected this movie to be some pretty sweet shit. And so it was, except that it was nearly exactly the same course as a much cooler and more detailed film from the year before — which I
have seen many times over.
Furthermore, Leech gave an opening speech about the clearcutting of old-growth forests which, though well-intentioned and certainly a good sentiment, actually just made him sound naïve and rather egotistical (a nice euphemism for ‘kinda stupid’). This film received a People’s Choice vote at this year’s festival — clearly people weren’t paying attention in 2006. On the other hand, the three and a half hour show also offered some great selections, thankfully. As a rock-climber and a skier/snowboarder, I personally appreciated the first and last videos — shots of skiers biting it big-time (I have never heard so many people gasp at once) and an absolutely amazing climbing video, respectively. (Balance by Paul Cotton of Canada, King Lines by Josh Lowell and Peter Mortimer of the United States.) There was also a short animated film called Badgered (Sharon Coleman, UK) about the effects of toxic waste dumping on wildlife, which was actually quite amusing, and a film about a punk rock band that also cross-country skis (Cross-Country with the Snakes, Hansey Johnson, USA) that was equally funny.
My personal favorite was The Western Lands — Hoy (Grant Gee, UK, winner — Best Short Mountain Film), about a man who climbs “Old Man Hoy” on his 60th birthday. The video is beautifully filmed and narrated by the climber himself, who meditates in lyrical poetry/prose about climbing, communing with nature, growing old, loving and losing.
I hope that this movie gets up on Youtube in full (only a one-minute trailer is currently available — added by the director himself). I want you all to hear, believe and be moved by how a rock smells like sex.
Over all, this year’s festival was another great success and a pleasure to attend. I will most certainly be going back next year. Actually I won’t because I will be in India, but you should definitely go. Just remember to get your tickets early — it sells out fast and for good reason.