Film Reviews

Banff Mountain Film Festival @ Nottingham Playhouse

Excitement, adventure, adrenaline and free goodies, what more could you want in an evening? This is exactly what was delivered at the screening of the Red Programme of films at the Banff Mountain Film Festival.

The films are chosen from a wide variety all entered into the most recent festival, held in the Canadian mountain town of Banff and combine stunning cinematography with inspirational and intrepid tales.

Indeed, our evening contained films following a ninety-year-old figure skater, the best one-armed female climber in the world, and a Yorkshireman who decided to cycle the world.

The programme began with Imagination by Sherpas Cinema, a four minute delve into the imagination of a child, whose dreams of skiing around the landscape his parents drive through become alive when a real-life skier (Tom Wallish) performs amazing stunts over and around the car. This film was made in memory of freeskier JP Auclair, who died in a 2014 avalanche, and whose concept the film is based upon. Featuring tricks including skiing over houses and down stairs, it was an exhilarating start to the festival.

Image courtesy of Balcony Nine Media.

Edges presents the story of nonagenarian figure skater Yvonne Dowler who tells the story of her life and how now, despite the challenges of growing older, she still enjoys getting out on the ice. The film cleverly avoids the clichés of ‘look an old person who can still do something’, and puts Yvonne centre stage, so she can in her own words tell us how to live a life of passion and to follow our dreams. In just nine minutes the filmmaker, Katie Sjernholm takes us through all the highs and lows life can bring.

Intersection focused on the artist and mountain biker Micayla Gatto, whose artwork featured prominently in the film, becoming the landscape she was riding through. A wash of colour and the mountainous landscape backdrop led to a spectacular five minutes where Gatto proved that this film was ‘for anyone who doesn’t fit into a single category’.

“They journeyed over the world’s second largest polar icecap on an expedition to a remote river”

The feature film of the Red Programme was Into Twin Galaxies, which followed three former National Geographic Adventurers, professional kayakers Ben Stookesbury and Erik Boomer, and polar expert Sarah McNair-Landry, as they journeyed over the world’s second largest polar icecap on an expedition to a remote river, the existence of which is only confirmed by satellite images on Google Earth.

Sounds tame enough, until the trio explain their plan to kite ski the thousand miles across Greenland, in entirely the wrong month of the year, in order to be able to kayak the river in September when water levels would be at their lowest. With the crevasses and mogul fields of the ice cap exposed, the team have to attempt to cross with a combination of hiking, dragging their kayaks behind them, and kite surfing when the conditions are suitable.

The danger of this expedition wasn’t realised until McNair-Landry suffered a kite surfing accident that postpones the trip for several days – she later discovered after completing the trip that she had broken several vertebrae in her back. Don’t try this at home kids.

Image courtesy of Hello Emotion.

The humour of the three explorers lightened the tone of this film immensely, but at 52 minutes it was perhaps slightly too long and the action could have been condensed to create more tension and dramatic effect. If this was the case, perhaps one of Impact’s reviewers wouldn’t have found themselves taking a cheeky nap halfway through after a long day of revision. One of the free Clif Bars that the Festival gave audience members soon perked us both up in preparation for the second half of the film showings.

After the interval came Ice Call – Backyard Project, a brief 3 minute insight into the world of freeride skier Sam Favret, who treats the valley glacier of Mer de Glace as a skatepark. Favret uses these natural features to hone his skiing skills, and audience members were in awe of the scenery he calls his playground. The only problem we found with these shorter films was that they had the sense of being an advert, and were waiting for the product placement at the end!

“Page discovers the dangers and joys that come with travelling alone”

The Frozen Road was the next film to be shown, with Ben Page adventuring across the Canadian Arctic as part of his round-the-world cycling journey. Inspired by Jack London’s quotes and featuring a fair few wolves too, Page discovers the dangers and joys that come with travelling alone, before deciding that adventures are better done with company.

Our only criticism with this film were the overdramatised reactions of Page. Despite stating that he was alone in this wilderness and struggling immensely to travel pushing his heavy bike, there were some (presumably effort-inducing) long shots of Page doing just that, where he would have had to expel extra effort to get the camera to this far flung location to film himself.

The altering of camera angles as he hung his head in despair from observing from the side to below also added to our sense that perhaps making a dramatic and emotionally engaging film was Page’s end goal, and his exaggerated reactions were a huge part of this. Perhaps not the most authentic of the films on the programme, but stunning nonetheless.

Image courtesy of Krystle Wright.

The final, and definitely not inspirational film was Stumped by Cedar Wright and Taylor Keating, who follow Maureen Beck, a climber born without her left hand as she attempts to scale a 5.12 rock face called Days of Future Past in Colorado. Full of parody, jokes, beer and cupcakes, this was one of the best films of the night, and Maureen and the other adaptive climbers who feature in the film are warm, foul-mouled and downright hilarious, making this a short film not to miss.

Overall, our first experience of the Banff Mountain Film Festival was nothing but positive, the films, host and audience all combining to create an unforgettable cinematic experience. The choice of the Nottingham Playhouse as a venue, with its wonderful Anish Kapoor Sky Mirror situated outside, added a touch of class to proceedings too. And fingers crossed that we win the trip to Canada all audience members were invited to enter into, as who knows – Banff’s next film festival may feature a winning film from Impact.

Lawrie Cate and Amy Wilcockson


Featured image courtesy of Jeremy Bernard.

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