I've been hosting the Banff Mountain Film Festival for Alpine Shop in St. Louis for quite a few years now and there's always something amazing each and every time we do this.
A lot of people think we get to see all of the films beforehand and hand pick which ones we think will work best. Well, there's some truth to that; but the whole truth is a lot more interesting. You see, we get about two minute clips of each of the films. So, you can imagine with a film like Red Gold last night, it's impossible for us to tell whether or not an hour-long feature film will be any good based on that clip. It's kind of like a film critic writing reviews based on trailers instead of the actual movie. No, what's great about Banff is that I'm seeing these films for the first time alongside everybody else. That's not to say that there isn't work done by a bunch of people to select which films we think will go over best; but we just never know until the lights go down each year.
The Red Helmet kicked off the show with the tale of a youn,g timid boy coming to grips with his fears after he finds a red helmet in the forest. After experiencing the lives of a number of adrenaline sport athletes (kayaker, climber, mountain biker, etc.) through the helmet, the little man faces his own fears and takes the plunge, literally. Good start to the show.
Papiroflexia (Spanish for origami) was an animated feature. Dealt with the dream to get rid of all the noise and pollution of our lives and get back to nature. Will it be the most popular animated film of the year? We'll have to wait till tonight to see The Cable Car to find out?
Now for the most controversial topic every year at Banff... did the feature film live up to your expectations? Red Gold dealt with a proposed mine at the headwaters of two of the largest remaining sockeye salmon runs on the planet near Bristol Bay in Alaska. I'll just say that I loved the film. The cinematography was gorgeous. The story resonated with me. I know there were people that thought it was too long. But I'd be interested in what some others thought. What did you think of Red Gold? (For conversation's sake, I think the best feature we've ever shown was Alone Across Australia during the 2004 tour.)
The Sharp End: Eastern Europe was hands down the funniest movie of the night. "We don't drink a lot, a lot. I mean 8-10 beers a day is standard." That pretty much sums up this group of Checzk climbers' philosophy. Not that this film was all drunken play. Some of the climbing was pheonmenal. A little humor never hurts, though.
One of the fascinating things about this festival is an almost 50-50 split among our audience as to why they've come to Banff. Half of them come strictly for the adrenaline. The other half are there for the culture and nature. Maybe I'm generalizing that a little much, but I can tell you each year I hear from numerous people "Why didn't you show more of this?" or "Why did you pick that?" and it always has to do with the cultural/adrenaline split. So, I wouldn't be surprised if half of our audience loved Shikashika and half hated it. This was the story of a Peruvian family that climbs into the Andes, hacks enormous blocks of ice from the mountain glaciers and brings them down to the valley on the backs of mules to shave off and sell as snowcones (or as they call it- shikashika). Can you imagine the TroMo kids having to bring down the blocks of ice from the mountains to give Kirkwood it's snowcone fix? That's what I kept thinking anyways....
The last two films, Under the Influence and Seasons, both showcased the adrenaline rush with two of the best production groups in the business today. Teton Gravity Research's Under the Influence had some absolutely unbelieveable powder footage from last year's massive storm system in Jackson, Wy. Seasons comes from a group called the Collective. Every year that they have a film in the tour, I'll pick it. They've been on the cutting edge with their style in all three films they've produced starting in 2004 with their self-titled DVD, The Collective, and continued with ROAM and now Seasons. Their work features some of the most innovative use of zip-line cinematography, super slo-mo and helicopter footage you'll ever see. So, in the future, just so you know, don't miss a mountain biking film from the Collective.
So that was night one. Tonight, our feature film is Journey to the Center, and we'll move from sockeye salmon to BASE jumping. That's Banff for you. It's why I love the festival so much and look forward to it all year round.
Hope you enjoyed it as much as I did last night. Leave a comment on what you liked or hated...
By the way, funniest Banff film ever: Xtreme Tramping II: Lord of the Springs.