The 2018 Banff film festival was notable, as always, for showcasing some of the worlds most talented and inspirational mountain adventurers -not least the hilarious film about incredibly accomplished paraclimber Maureen Beck.
Undisputed as the world’s greatest film festival, having started in 1976 by local climbers and skiers looking for some off-season excitement, this year was no different. The festival tours 600 countries, having showings on all seven continents.
The showing in Edinburgh this year took place on Saturday the 13th of January. In the festival theatre a crowd assembled, complexions glowing and sinews straining from aspirational training, gore text jackets for all-weathers, pertex puffas for ice climbing, and spandex blended jeans for rock climbing. Energy bars were dished out from the sponsors along with groovy outdoor lifestyle stickers for estate car roof boxes. Let the Banff Mountain Film Festival begin.
First up ‘Imagination’, a film featuring Tom Wallisch a professional freeskier, runs on the premise of a little boy’s imagination of ski stunts in the surrounding landscape as he’s driven to school by his parents. The parents sit in the front arguing and discussing bathroom tiles at length, whilst the boy dreams of a freestyle skier outside the car and hey presto Tom Wallisch is leaping and spinning from house to house, trashing his skis clearing roads and railings. As the family reach the school Tom Wallisch is joined by countless skiers from the imaginations of the other children. The short film is endearing and humorous with some beautiful shots of Nelson, BC, Canada, it won ‘Best Snowsports Film’ in the festival.
Next up we see ‘Edges’ a film about the life of Yvonne Dowlen a 90-year old world class ice skater. Yvonne, who walks with difficulty manages to hold grace and agility once on the ice, she claims skating is easier than walking for her. She tells the camera that we need not abandon our passions, hobbies and pastimes as we get older and as if to prove the point as the film ends there is a postscript saying, “She died as she lived, on the ice -2016”. A collective emotional swallowing throughout the audience.
Following this emotional clip is a film, ‘Intersection’, about a mountain biker/artist, Micayla Gatto, who combines her passion for mountain landscapes through her two jobs. The film is a supremo, its fast, its furious, its five minutes with riffy rock guitars and badass drums. The landscapes and their pictorial paintings are stunning.
The next film, a cracking one, ‘Into Twin Galaxies’, follows the National Geographic Adventurers of the year Ben Stookesberry, Sarah McNair-Landry and Erik Boomer as they travel across Greenland by foot, ski, kite ski and kayak. The trio adored in very attractive outdoor clothing embark on a 1000km trip to reach the northern-most un-kayaked river. Well it’s not without hitch, the trio have relied on google earth for an assessment of the terrain. They start off dragging their kayaks across glacier crevasses which takes days and days. Then the ice smooth’s out, the wind picks up and they kite surf along at pace, until Sarah is lifted into the air and falls hurting her back (we find out later she has broken it but didn’t realise until back home). They press on in an all for one and one for all style, eventually getting to the lake which the river runs from and finding the river completely frozen. This is terrible news however, they find the river is melted downstream though fast and furious. The advnturers decide to do some white water kayaking down some improbably fast and narrow waterfalls. They complete the task, terrify the audience and Ben emerges from the torrent of water with only a bashed nose. Ben and Sarah hug. Erik says he wouldn’t do it again and the audience love it. The festival takes a break for some mountain themed prizes and so the audience of budding mountaineers can stock up on necessary protein bars and hydration.
The films resume, first for this half is ‘Frozen Road’ a solo -30°C bike trip filmed entirely by the cyclist Ben Page as he crosses Canada to the Arctic sea. The trip, inspired by author Jack London quotes about manliness and solitude, it almost comes across as machoistic. Ben gets very, very cold, his isolation reaches climax with his fear of being eaten by wolves. They howl while he lies in his cold dark tent. Eventually Ben is rescued by some locals in a snow storm, armed with rifles for the wolves and a body stretcher for the presumed dead Ben.
By far the highlight of this year’s festival was the hilarious ‘Stumped’. Maureen Beck is missing her low left arm, she starts the film telling us a list of possible incidents that could have resulted in this. Already we’re warmed by her humour and how she obviously doesn’t take herself too seriously. By far the best is “don’t wave to people when jumping from a helicopter”. Maureen is also a pretty good rock climber who sets herself the target of climbing a grade 5.12 climb, which any climbers will know is no easy task, Maureen has over 50 attempts, the film makers engineer a surprise cameo appearance by rock god Tommy Caldwell, who with his left arm tied up attempts the climb and fails on the crux move which is blocking Maureen’s ascent. Its back to basics time and Maureen embarks on a healthy eating and cardio exercise regimen. The film ends with Maureen finally making it but not before the film sound cut out. When she makes the climb and audience member yells “give her a cupcake” a reference to Maureen’s cupcake addiction, testimony to how engaged the audience are with her character. This film is funny and beautifully shot, emphasising that paraclimbers like Maureen do not want to be told what they do is inspirational for a disabled person, they want their deserved respect as international climbing champions pushing the boundaries of what’s conceivable.
This year the films were extraordinary pushing both the boundaries of adventure sports, unexplored regions and tackling issues of disability, gender and ageism. The film festival managed to get a cross selection of varied pursuits each presented in different film styles. A common factor was the astonishing ability of these individuals in their chosen discipline. I look forward to next year’s selection and encourage you to watch these films, especially ‘Into Twin Galaxies’ and ‘Stumped’.