Posted by: martinworster | November 29, 2017

Banff Film Festival 2017

Banff Film Festival 2017

20171102_121122[1]I’m in the mountains watching films about the mountains at the biggest Mountain Film Festival in the world: The Banff Mountain Film Festival. I think I might like it here. Even on the bus transfer from Calgary to Banff I knew I was in for a treat as I overheard fellow passengers – and festival attendees – talking about adventures such as skiing across Greenland and free solo climbing jagged peaks on the South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands. In fact, I recognised many of the faces on this bus as characters I was to watch films about – more on that later.

The festival is part of the circuit – including Telluride and Kendall in the UK – of festivals dedicated to films about action and extreme sports where film makers, producers, camera men (and women) and athletes go to network, booze, showcase their films and ideally win awards. It seems like Banff is the marquee event on this circuit, the Cannes of extreme sports. The setting also helps at the Banff Centre – an amazing campus dedicated to creativity nestled in the Banff valley surrounded by stunning mountains in the Canadian Rockies. The centre is simply beautiful – film and writing workshops, music and painting residencies, lecture halls, theatres, everything for the advancent of creativity and learning. Dotted around the edge of the campus were various cabins in which I was told musicians come on scholarhips to be given the time, space and freedom to create. Highly elevated and cultured principles. I stress again – I think I am going to like it here.


So film makers and athletes come here to meet other people in the industry I imagine in the hope of collaborating on projects, swapping ideas and maybe to get funding or distribution on their films. Hence everyone has a name tag underwhich it states the name of the film they might be showcasing or the company or brand they work for. National Geographic, Nikon, Red Bull etc. Mine had my name in UPPER CASE and underneath it was blank – hence I did find people slightly looking over my shoulder when I found out that what I did for a living wasn’t connected to this industry. I jest slightly, I’ve done my fair share of extreme sport shenanigans and am an avid enthusiast so felt I earnt my spot at the table.


Here are some of my film and book talk highlights (bare in mind I only spent four days at the festival which is a week long):


Explorers’ Sketchbooks – Huw Lewis-Jones (book talk)


Fascinating talk from a British historian academic who has unique access to the archives of various explorers, from Scott of Antarctica to Wade Davis – and hence pieces together stories and facts about their lives. His latest book focuses – as the title would imply – on their sketchbooks and is beautifully signed. Huw has an immense passion for his subject which really came through on this fascinating and witty talk making him a bit of a celebrity on the UK. I bought his book for my sons which is now also signed by Huw.


Into Twin Galaxies – A Greenland Epic (film)


Funded by Red Bull – like many of the films here – this beautifully shot adventure chronicles a kite ski traverse across Greenland to the source of a glacial river in time for the melt and subsequent kayak journey back to where they started. All in a days work? It was for the three adventures on a gruelling epic with various injuries and drama to give it dramatic tensions – as if it needed it when the setting is so other worldly. This got a Jury special mention and deservedly so – it was also great to meet all the stars and directors of this film.


Psycho Vertical (film)


Another character – Andy Kirkpatrick – who was on my bus ride out. A bit of a legend in a climbing world, this amusing and insightful biography presented Kirkpatrick as philosopher / comic unlikely antihero. The film was really well put together, the score was pitch perfect as well as the merging of the climbers childhood drawings with footage of an epic solo ascent of El Capitan. The film really got under the skin of Kirkpatrick, with a self narrative split between psychologists couch with a stand up comics timing and delivery. This one one best film in the Climbing category.


Last Honey Hunter (film)


A nice insight into another world, culture and tradition. Braving height and bee stings, Maule Dhan Rai is the last man carrying on the tradition of gathering honey from the side of mountainous cliffs perched on rope. The honey is revered for its pyschedelic qualities and Maule is visited in a dream by the wrathful forest spirit called Rongkemi. Amazing footage, there’s even GoPro cameras in the honey baskets – you’re right in the action and hence fully immersed in the story. This won the award for Best Film: Mountain Culture.


The Frozen Road (film)

The Frozen Road (Trailer) from Another Horizon on Vimeo.

I only saw the second half of this short film so I will be hunting it down when I can. The bit I saw was very good. I am also mentioning it as I met the director and producer Ben Page and he’s a lovely lad. This also got a special mention from the jury.


A Line In The Snow – Greece (film)

A Line in the Snow – Greece from Ben Tibbetts on Vimeo.


You can ski in Greece. It’s not just postcard perfect islands in the Mediterranen for either romantic getaways or packaged piss ups. Greece has mountains. And you can ski there. Beautifully shot and some great mountain action from Ben Tibbetts.


Bullock, Boswell, and the Bear (talk)

Celebrated Alpinists Nick Bullock – also on my bus journey – and Greg Boswell were climbing in the Canadian Rockies – when Boswell got attacked by a grizzly bear. They each give their account of the situation in a very witty British manner, not unlike being told the story in an old pub whilst nursing a pint of bitter. Very entertaining. A bonus they lived to tell the tale.


These are just some of the highlights of the films I saw. It was very energising and inspiring meeting all these people who were seriously pursuing their dreams. Pushing themselves to the limits to explore the world and open our eyes to different cultures and parts of this increasingly small planet. That was another big take home for me – how for many of these film makers it really is a labour of love. They are pursuing their passions in front of a camera and they are probably not getting paid lots of money. In fact many are probably not making a living at all. That’s the point I suppose – it’s not all about money. That was also kind of inspiring.

Festival Take Home:

Visiting the festival was a revealing insight into this world and the process of getting a film out to a wider audience – probably with the end game of wider distribution / funding off the back of – in an ideal world – winning an award for their film. I also deduced that a successful film is more than just shooting extreme action for no reason other than creating ski / climb / snowboard / surf porn (delete where applicable). The story must have an interesting narrative, a personal story, a revealing of or insight into a culture or peoples, a worthy cause, maybe some humour – something, some dramatic tension, interest and colour to the story other than shots of an extreme sports person doing what they do really well. There’s enough sports porn out there – and I myself enjoy consuming it – but for a film to resonate and stick with an audience, it must have something more to it. Those were the films that really hit the spot – both with the audiences and the jury – as evidenced by the 2017 winner the ‘Last Honey Hunter’. I now need to think of my interesting idea to turn into a film for next years Jury Selection.


(A broken thumb after a silly ski accident required medication. Doctors orders)


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