As I said on Facebook, I used to think getting to sit beside the window in the office was a perk, but then about an hour before work finished on Wednesday May 18th I was asked if I wanted a free ticket to the Banff Mountain Film Festival. Of course I did!
There were six tickets in total and in the end three of us went; myself, Hélène, and Gráinne (who suffered a mild panic about missing the event when she cycled over a thumb tack and got a flat tyre).
My own bicycle issues were based around the fact that there never seems to be a Dublin Bike around when you’re in a hurry and you need one. Undeterred, I made my way on foot and met Hélène at the National Concert Hall around five to seven.
We picked up the tickets and went about trying to find out who else was coming; which consisted of Hélène checking Facebook and seeing that Shane wasn’t going to make it and myself calling Gráinne to suggest alternate modes of transport ranging from Dublin Bikes, to good old fashioned legging it. Unfortunately none of these were really feasible and it looked like she wasn’t going to make it until she called me back a few minutes later and asked “Why did neither of us think of a taxi?!”
While Gráinne taxied in, myself and Hélène dropped our bags off at the cloakroom and I grabbed a beer at the bar. Turning around I bumped into John Sharp (another member of the Great Outdoors crew). Chatting to John and his mates for a bit, he pointed out that A Line Across The Sky was showing (I hadn’t yet looked at the program). I was pretty happy about this. I’d read about and watched the trailer on Outside but just assumed I either wouldn’t get to see it; or if I did I’d end up streaming it on my phone while sitting on a bus to work.
Five minutes later we were taking our seats in the auditorium, joined by Gráinne who’d arrived just in time for the first film.
Builder was a mountain biker’s dream. It started off with a father building jumps for his insanely talented 11 year old son; and ended up morphing into a rock music video of guys biking through trails and over jumps that at times could only make me think of a particularly aggressive Green Hills Zone from Sonic the Hedgehog.
Renan Ozturk’s Curiosity began, for me, with Hélène getting good-naturedly annoyed and correcting the MC (a woman named Nell) on her pronunciation of Mont Blanc under her breath.
For everyone else, it followed ultra-runners Rory Bosio, Timothy Olson and Hal Koerner as they ran 2014’s Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc, 103.1 miles around the mountain and passing through France, Italy, and Switzerland.
The two guys dropped out, Koerner due to a knee injury after 17 miles and Olson with his first career Did Not Finish at 87 miles.
Bosio, on the other hand; a pediatric intensive-care nurse from California, went on to win the race for the second year in a row.
Unbranded tells the story of four Texas cowboys as they ride from Mexico to Canada. This would be impressive enough on its own, but in this case the riders planned to adopt, train and use only a team of mustangs; American wild horses. Their aim, aside from the border-to-border journey, was to prove the worth of, and raise awareness about, these animals.
This was a different film to the usual Banff Mountain Film Festival fare (alliteration is fun!) and I honestly didn’t think I’d be drawn in. I was wrong. This film is full of beautiful shots and quite a few laugh-out-loud moments, tempered by somber emotion. Plus a donkey that was funnier and more popular with the audience than the one from Shrek.
As I watched the four friends sitting around a fire, playing cards, and eating beans; I couldn’t help but feel these were the kind of cowboys my dad had imagined meeting in Travels with Surly, his his trans-American San Francisco to Boston cycle tour a few years ago.
Pretty Faces was 11 minutes of awesome. An all female ski film featuring a number of athletes but in particular spotlighting Rachel Burks as she follows her dreams and skis down impossibly high, impossibly steep lines in Alaska, covered in perfect, untouched snow.
The idea behind the film is to give young girls “role models and inspiration to play outside”. I know Hélène, a huge fan of snow sports, loved it. For my own part I can say that while I’m not the target audience, it made me think about putting on a pair of skis and getting back on the slopes too; having not skied since I was about 14.
Nothing to do with the mountain. Denali is a pretty heartbreaking tale of a man and his dog; and saying goodbye to your best friend. Told, somewhat ingeniously from the dog’s point of view.
From the Banff website: “Denali celebrates the bond between humans and dogs and highlights the incredible strength our friends can provide.” I won’t tell you any more. It’s only eight minutes long. Watch it. It’s worth it.
A Line Across The Sky
This was the film I’d been waiting for.
Mount Fitz Roy, on the border between Argentina and Chile in Patagonia, was first climbed in 1952. The Fitz Traverse however, climbing all seven peaks of the Fitz Roy ridge-line has never been done. Until now. Tommy Caldwell and Alex Honnold started climbing at 9:45 a.m. on February 12, and finished the traverse at 10 a.m. on February 16. A Line Across The Sky is the story of that traverse.
It sounds fanboyish and somewhat naive to say that Honnold reminded me of me (and anyone who’s watched me climb can attest to exactly how naive it is); but his lack of preparedness and almost arrogant “How hard can it be?” attitude did actually make me think of myself on Kili. The longer I work in Great Outdoors and the more people I meet intending to climb Kilimanjaro the more I come to think I was totally unprepared. I had bought no specialist gear, apart from the least expensive hiking boots I could find; and I’d done practically no training for it unless you count my daily runs on the Curragh. I was preparing to climb the tallest freestanding mountain on the planet, by effectively running around the biggest field in the country.
Alex drastically underestimated every aspect of this climb.
So you can see how the similarity crossed my mind, and I couldn’t help but smile.
The reality of how dangerous it could have been in Honnold’s case though hit home for me in a scene in which Caldwell was saying goodbye to his wife and child (named Fitz after the mountain) when Gráinne turned to me and whispered “How heartbreaking would this footage have been if it had gone arse up?”
In the end though it was really hard not to kind of love these two buddies climbing together and you definitely ended up rooting for them.
Homefree was the final film of the night. Five minutes following freerunner Will Sutton across the Isle of Man, showing that there’s more to the island than the world famous TT.
It was short and sweet, a simple yet engaging end to the evening; with some absolutely beautiful shots that reminded me of Irish filmmaker (and college classmate of mine) James Skerritt.
So that’s it, my round up of the Banff Mountain Film Festival 2016. Sorry it took so long to post. :).