The theatre is not a place you would normally associate with the great outdoors, but from January through to May 2019 Banff Mountain Film Festival has been transforming UK theatres into an enclave of outdoors enthusiasts. This week it was the turn of Wimbledon Theatre, and there’s barely a seat left in the house.
There truly nothing quite like experiencing the beauty of the natural world on the big screen. The seven short films tonight take you from dizzying heights, impossible to reach, to the dusty, dirty or snow covered ground from the comfort of a plush theatre seat. Would you swap it for a high altitude blizzard in -20 degree temperatures, as Tania and her 60 year old Mum do in This Mountain Life? What you do or don’t do in your spare time is irrelevant, the festival is open to all to come and appreciate whether you are there to get a taste of these mountain-lovers high-octane adrenaline, or just to take in the scenery.
The RED programme (it’s one of two, the other being BLUE) opens with charming animation Viacruxis, that all climbers should be able to relate to, or in fact anyone who has ever been on a mountainous adventure with a friend! From selfies and slips-ups to being a little-too-close for comfort (no friend ever needs to see THAT!) the film explores the ups and downs of these hilarious climbing partners. You may well be elbowing your companion in the ribs throughout!
How to Run 100 Miles also centres on an adventurous friendship. Jayson and Brendan are ‘not really’ runners, but when Jayson has fought childhood bullying, poverty, dyslexia and a long string of amateur boxing matches, how can 100 little miles be hard? And how can Brendon deny Jayson’s infectious optimism when he asks him to sign up, too? Together, they train for and run the testing Run Rabbit Run ultramarathon through the epic mountains of North Colorado. It’s their bond that pulls them through even the toughest times, and there’s a tear in the eye as well as sweat on the brow by the finish.
It’s a tenacious mother-daughter pairing in This Mountain Life that plan and complete a six month 2,300km ski-traverse from Vancouver to Alaska. Together they not only experience the humbling and transformative beauty of the extreme arctic wilderness, but a transformation in their relationship with each other. As well as strengths and weaknesses they learn a new respect. It’s a truly fascinating, as well as epically stunning, film to watch.
German friends Max and Jochen set out to chase ice and palms, in this film of the same name. Cycling and skiing their way across the mountains from Germany, sleeping on roadsides sheltered by snowmobiles but finishing with a splash in the palm-shaded Mediterranean Sea. What an adventure!
Jon Wilson and Kai Jones go it alone to prove themselves in Ascend and Far Our respectively. After losing his full left leg to an aggressive cancer Jon proves that you don’t need four limbs to enjoy being out in the mountains on a bike. Kai, that age is not a number that seems to apply in the mountains – he’s already beating the competition and having the time of his life aged just 11.
The final short film Skier verses Drone does just what it says on the tin – pits an Olympic skier against a competition winning drone flyer, at break-neck speed down a slalom. It’s a reminder of the skill, creativity and commitment of those behind the cameras and ever-more-advanced recording equipment, that have made our experience of these adventures not only possible but incredible.
The Banff film festival is in its 10th year and this is my first brush with it, which just goes to show that it is growing and reaching new audiences year-on-year. The inspiration I found so fired me up that I was planning my next adventure with my friend in the pub across the road, within 30 seconds of leaving (Snowdonia. Mountain bikes. June – If you’re interested!) It would truly be impossible to capture all there is to explore out there in an evening but be prepared to have your eyes opened and the boundaries of what you thought was possible or you were capable, of pushed. Or at least widened incrementally.
What really struck me about the Banff film selection, is that these films seem to say less about the mountains, and more about the human condition. Our fascination, our reverence, our curiosity towards the mountains and our need to explore that in an often playful, sometimes brutal but always life-affirming way. It’s heady stuff.