Review: The Banff Film Festival

(Last Updated On: March 9, 2009)

The Banff Film Festival is always a delight to see as it makes it’s world tour to over 450 locations. Unfortunately, when living on the Front Range, the festival was difficult to see because ticket prices were helaciously expensive, and venues often sold out quickly.

The Banff Film Festival has come to Crested Butte for the last 18 years. We consider it an honor that this huge event travels through our small town. Needless to say, the event was sold out both nights. We attended the show on Saturday, March 7th.

For those of you not familiar with the Banff Film Festival, it is film contest that originates in Banff, Canada. There people enter their films which all have outdoors themes of some sort relating to sport, culture, and the environment. Some of the best films are selected to tour around the world. Typically, the festival stays at a venue for two different nights, showing different films each night. Most films shown on tour are less than an hour in length. Some are excerpts from longer films. And some films are short, about five or six minutes in length.

The first film shown for the evening was Shikashika. This film portrays a Peruvian family that hikes into the Andes to “harvest” ice from the glaciers. This process has been a family tradition for a long time. They sell the ice in the Peruvian town as a slush-ice treat that the locals call shikashika. This film is not only enlightening into a small part of Peruvian culture, but it also makes one think about what people will endure just to earn a little bit of money. After all, that’s what started this tradition in the first place, right? Another thought that came to mind after having traveled to Peru myself is how this tradition fit in to the local’s reverence of their mountains. Peruvians still hold some native beliefs that literally worship the mountains. I would have liked to see how this shikashika tradition fit into these beliefs.

Find out more about this film here:

The second film that was shown was Red Helmet. This story begins with a young boy who is afraid to jump into the water with his friends. He runs away into the forest where he finds a red helmet. He puts on the helmet. Then the movie switches scenes showing a daring kayaker, climber, mountain biker, paraglider, and more, each wearing a red helmet. The red helmet is a symbol for what the boy could potentially do, and also symbolizes “protection” from his own fears. Wearing it, he jumps into the water. I thought this movie had some clever ideas in it and showed some excellent outdoor footage.

See the entire film here:

The next film was a 53 minute documentary called The Last Nomads. In this documentary, linguist and anthropologist Ian Mackenzie tells the story of the Penan people in Borneo. He’s been following their story for over 15 years, documenting their language and in turn also documenting their lives. The Penan’s nomadic lifestyle is being threatened by the encroaching logging which destroys the old growth rainforest and muddies the rivers that sustain their lives. Over the last 10 years or so the Penan have been having to give up their nomadic lifestyle in order to survive, being forced to settle and grow rice. Mackenzie has always known that as he documented the Penan, he would eventually see the last of the nomads. This film documents his search for the last nomadic tribe of the Penan. When he finds them, they too have settled. Mackenzie is heartbroken, yet doesn’t blame these people for having to settle to survive. The Penan cannot read or write, and therefore cannot put up a fight against the Malaysian government. Although Mackenzie has tried to help the Penan all he can, he knows one person is not enough to put up a fight against an entire government. All he can do is try to document their life, their culture, and their language before that too dies. This movie cannot help but be moving to viewers. It’s hard to believe that nomads could still exist in today’s world and it is sad to see a whole culture begin to perish.

View the trailer here:

The Last Nomads was followed by another documentary called Seasons. Seasons tells the story of four downhill mountain bikers throughout the four seasons of a year. Through the excellent cinematography, the viewer comes face to face with the danger and challenges that downhill mountain bikers experience on a day to day basis. However, I found that the film was not clear on the names of the riders and who was racing/riding at certain times. I found myself confused. But, nevertheless, this film leaves viewers with added respect for the downhill racers of today.

View the trailer here:

A seven minute animation called The Cable Car was next in line. Here, an old man with a big nose starts going up a cable car up a mountain. The location is inexact, but it is presumably somewhere in Europe. On the way, he decides to have a bit of snuff, which causes him to sneeze. With each sneeze, the cable car begins to fall apart. The man keeps pulling out a roll of yellow tape, trying to tape the cable car back together. But, alas, the cable car falls away, and he is hanging on to the cable with his yellow tape. I struggled to find meaning in this movie. I wasn’t sure what its purpose was in the Banff Film Festival. Frankly, it left me with a very sad and empty feeling in the end.

The last two films of the evening were my favorites. The first was a 14 minute film called The Unbearable Lightless of Skiing. This film was created by ski mountaineer Greg Hill. He tells the story familiar to most ski mountaineers: When he would go home, his family would ask, “What have you been up to?” He would explain that he’s been skiing lots of high peaks, cross-country skiing to the top, and how good the turns feel. But, half way through the story, he would see the person’s eyes glaze over. So, he decided to grab a video camera and start filming some of his outings. This film is a collection of his highlights for one season. Any backcountry skier can relate to the feelings expressed by Greg Hill in his film. And non-skiers can hopefully begin to understand why we do the things that we do!

Below are two videos that Greg Hill used for some of the footage in his movie:

The last film of the evening was called The Sharp End: Eastern Europe. This film documents a group of seasoned climbers from the US that travel to this area full of magnificent spires in the Czech Republic, near Germany. The climbers find that the area holds true to it’s tradition of climbing. Chalk and cams are not allowed. Putting metal bolts into the walls is also not allowed. So, how do these people climb? They take pieces of cord, tie a knot, and jam them into the cracks in the walls. This somewhat seemingly sketchy technique proves to hold through several of the climber’s falls. The climbers challenge themselves here, even making a first ascent on a route, and leave with an added respect for the culture of climbing in the area. Anyone who sees this film will undoubtedly think that these climbers are a bit crazy. But, the film does an excellent job portraying both the climbing culture there and the difficulty of the routes.

Below is a link to another Sharp End film created by the same people. The Eastern Europe film is currently not available.

For more on the films of the Banff Film Festival, please click here:

Brittany Walker Konsella

Aside from skiing, biking, and all outdoorsy things,Brittany Walker Konsella also loves smiles and chocolate 🙂 Even though she excels at higher level math and chemistry, she still confuses left from right. Find out more about Brittany!

Brittany Walker Konsella

Aside from skiing, biking, and all outdoorsy things, Brittany Walker Konsella also loves smiles and chocolate :) Even though she excels at higher level math and chemistry, she still confuses left from right. Find out more about Brittany!

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