Geomedia: Film: Banff Mountain Film Festival is geologic showcase

by Lucas Joel
Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Poster for the Banff Mountain Film Festival short film "Delta Dawn." Credit: Pete McBride.

The Banff Mountain Film Festival World Tour is a traveling collection of outdoor adventure films that feature the stories of climbers, alpine skiers, mountain bikers and other mountaineers, which are often set against geologically astounding backdrops.

The tour is part of the larger Banff Mountain Film and Book Festival, which is a production of the Banff Center, a post-secondary educational institution in Canada that focuses on the arts and leadership training. What began as a one-day event in Banff, Alberta, in 1976 has grown into a nine-day celebration of mountain culture with an annual audience size of about 20,000. The festival, which celebrates its 40th anniversary this year, usually receives about 375 submissions from filmmakers, only 80 or so of which are screened in Banff. An even more select group are shown as part of the world tour, which begins each year a few days after the festival held in late October and early November.

The stated mission of the festival is, simply, to inspire creativity, which the Banff Center tries to achieve through film, as well as through writing with the festival’s book competition. “The festival is about the joy of experiencing wild landscapes and mountainous places,” says Joanna Croston, the festival’s programming director. “With some of our fans being armchair travelers, it’s a real window into remote environments that they may never have the opportunity to visit. We hope the films inspire them to go to these places so they can better understand them, and, in so doing, they may want to then protect them.”

The tour’s films each tell a unique story, but are united in their celebration of the human experience in the natural world. One film, “Sufferfest 2 — Desert Alpine,” is a real-life buddy comedy about two rock climbers, Cedar Wright and Alex Honnold, who set out to climb 45 desert towers across four U.S. states: Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah. Wright and Honnold traverse much of the vast Colorado Plateau, which has undergone little tectonic deformation through geologic time — part of the reason why many of the towers they climb are composed of neat stacks of horizontally layered sandstone. Some of the towers are made of loose rock, however, and large chunks of sandstone dislodge and fall to the ground, crumbling on impact as the two climb.

Alex Honnold and Cedar Wright climb in the Banff Mountain Film Festival short film "Sufferfest 2 — Desert Alpine." Credit: Cedar Wright.

The 16-minute-long “Delta Dawn” tells the story of an experimental flooding of the Colorado River in 2014 — an event that connected the river with the Gulf of California in Mexico for the first time in 16 years. The filmmaker, Pete McBride, chronicles his trip aboard a paddleboard down the revived river and finds that the flooding has brought on a burst of life in the long-parched expanse near the river’s mouth: People are celebrating the river’s return, and native plants are once again thriving.

“The Ridge,” an even shorter film, follows mountain biker Danny MacAskill as he rides the jagged basalt and gabbro ridges of Scotland’s Cuillin Mountains on the Isle of Skye. “The Cuillins have always been this inaccessible place for me,” MacAskill says at the start of the film. They’re inaccessible no longer it would seem. One scene shows MacAskill gliding down polished basalt slopes, sometimes hopping across crevasses from one slope to the next. In others, the audience is treated to equally stunning feats as he traverses the knife-edge ridges or ascends rocky towers while toting his ride on his shoulder, all in breathtaking fashion.

By the time the 2014/2015 tour reached Cape Town, South Africa, in October, it had completed 1,000 screenings in 40 countries and reached, and perhaps inspired, 440,000 people. Although that tour is now over, you can still check out the films online — some, like “The Ridge,” are available free on YouTube, but others require payment. And the 2015/2016 festival begins Oct. 31, so be sure to check out the Banff website to see if the tour will be coming soon to a theater near you.

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