First there is a mountain
The Best of the Banff Festival of Mountain Films
at the McKellar Room
"The holiness of the mountain infused into their own spirits enabled them to endure far more than anything he, with his greater physical strength, could take."
Held in November at the Banff Centre for Mountain Culture in Alberta, the 21st annual Banff Festival featured 140 films from 22 countries. They related tales of adventure and of everyday life living in the shadow of the remote high places of the earth. From these films, seven were chosen to be screened around the world on the 180-date tour known as "The Best of the Festival." The University Community Centre hosted a showing last week.
The Tragically Hip's Gord Downie once called water "the melody of panic." Nowhere was this observation more relevant than in the first film, Hydrospeed, a 20-minute short about South African extreme-athlete Mike Horn's adventures in Chamonix, France, the extreme-sport capital of the world. Horn, inventor of the Hydrospeed a fiberglass and foam shield that slides over one's shoulders is a first class daredevil. Straddling the fine line between bravery and insanity, Horn hurdles his Hydrospeed down massive white water and precarious glacial runoff and, like a boxer, finds himself bruised and cut even after a successful run.
Next up was a documentary by French filmmaker Jacques Malatarre entitled The Tsaatan, Reindeer Riders, winner of the festival's award for Best Film on Mountain Life. The Tsaatan are a nomadic tribe of reindeer herders in the high country of Mongolia. The film follows the trials of Bat, a family leader who, following the death of the 15-year-old reindeer which had always kept them safe, must go on the traditional visionquest to seek out his family's new "holy reindeer." Winner for Best Film on Climbing, San Valentin: The South African Expedition, provided a candid glimpse into six South African alpinists' attempts to conquer the rarely reached summit of San Valentin the highest peak in the Patagonia region of Chile. The film showcases some of the most extreme alpine mountaineering imaginable. In the end, four of the six participants succeeded in reaching the summit, while two had to turn back early due to failing health.
As morbid as it may sound, the next film, a German public service announcement for condom use, was by far the funniest of the evening. The piece portrays the intensity of a fruitless search and rescue mission for a mountaineer stranded by an avalanche. Unable to see the mountaineer through the blizzard conditions, the search party is about to call off the search when our hero, freezing to death just out of their view, reaches into his pocket, tears open a bright red condom and blows it up so it pops like a balloon. With the aid of the noise, the weary traveller is saved, once again proving that condoms really do save lives.
After a brief intermission we returned to our seats to watch the exploits of base jumper Patrick de Grayardon. With complete control of his body, he jumps out of a plane and lands on a pre-placed bull's-eye at the bottom of a narrow canyon, epitomizing another Downie lyric, "And the real wonder of the world is that we don't jump too!"
The final film, The Story of Tim Triumph, recounts the tale of an Alaskan who finished dead last in the Iditarod sled-dog race.
The films were enjoyable for both the armchair adventurer and the experienced wilderness enthusiast, leaving all satisfied, yet craving another adrenaline rush.