Women caught the eye of show goers this month at the 40th annual Banff Mountain Film Festival as they took leading roles on climbs, sea kayak tours and other film-making adventures.
“Female athletes were featured in far more films this year than in the past,” said Phil Bridgers of Mountain Gear, which sponsors the World Tour of festival films coming to Spokane this week.
Bridgers joined the crowd at the Oct. 31-Nov. 8 festival in Alberta to get the buzz and see the top films during the sold-out shows and events.
The World Tour of festival films also is sold out for Friday and Saturday nights at the Bing Crosby Theater in Spokane. “Some tickets are still available for Sunday night at Mountain Gear’s retail store,” Bridgers said Friday.
A different lineup will be shown each night, featuring a range of exhilarating and provocative films that explore life in the mountains, on the waters and in the skies. They highlight remote cultures, intense expeditions into exotic landscapes and bring action sports into focus.
While the complete lineup of films authorized for the tour won’t be known until Friday, Bridgers has already tapped a few of his favorites from the shows he saw in Banff.
“The Great Alone,” festival grand-prize winner about the Iditarod Sled Dog Race, should be on every film-watcher’s list to see, but at 84 minutes, a special edit would be required to get it on the World Tour.
“That still could happen, but it’s not certain,” Bridgers said.
More than half of the top prize-winning films were longer than 50 minutes, making them difficult to package into a three-hour evening of assorted flicks. “We like to give the audience a mix of short and long films,” he said.
But there’s a good selection of short films, too, he said, including “Women’s Speed Attempt,” in which Mayan Smith-Gobat and Libby Sauter shred two hours off the female record for ascending Yosemite’s El Cap.
“For the 19 years I have had the opportunity to host the films in North Idaho, I have heard the constant clamor on, ‘Why aren’t there more films about women?’” said Michael Boge of Mountain Fever in Sandpoint.
“This year has changed that with multiple films presenting women and their craft in the spotlight,” said Boge, who also went to Banff to preview films for the World Tour he will sponsor in Sandpoint and Coeur d’Alene in January.
“The most intense of these was ‘Kayaking the Aleutians,’ where Justine Curgenvin and Sarah Outen kayak the entire Aleutian chain from Russia to Alaska. Very much on their own for weeks at a time, the pair portray well, with some humor, what it took to accomplish this outrageous goal.”
Bridgers also was intrigued by Kayaking the Aleutians, although the film hasn’t yet been authorized to be on the World Tour.
While most of the adventurers featured in the Banff films are muscle-chiseled athletes, one of the women defies the stereotype. “She hasn’t missed a meal,” Bridgers said. “It adds to the film.
“Overall, I’d say this year’s batch of films evolved into the realm of great story telling,” he said. “The festival isn’t just a lot of thrill-seeker adventures competing to throw themselves off the highest cliff.
“Extreme sports are still well covered, but with better story telling and better imagery thanks to the advances on small cameras and technology.”
Skill, daring and endurance shine in “A Line Across the Sky,” featuring climbing phenoms Tommy Caldwell and Alex Honnold as they tackle the Fitz Traverse in Patagonia. The climbers have been followed by teams of cameramen in their world-news climbs in Yosemite, but went as a pair on this trek tracing the iconic four miles of icy rock skyline that includes Cerro Fitz Roy and its six satellite peaks.
“They make it look as though they’re just two guys going out and doing what they love and taking a camera with them,” Bridgers said. “You almost don’t realize they’re the best of the best doing something no one else has done.”
Honnold and Caldwell, the featured speakers at the main festival in Banff, said the role media plays in their pro climbing careers is constantly changing.
For example, Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson made the first free ascent of The Dawn Wall on Yosemite’s El Capitan in January, a 19-day event that became a media circus.
With cell phone service throughout their climb and a team of photographers and filmmakers tagging along, the pair generated a media buzz rarely seen in the climbing world.
“Caldwell said that when he saw the first satellite truck show up he threw his phone off the wall,” Bridgers said. “But Jorgeson kept tweeting and posting on social media. Pretty soon the mainstream media like the Wall Street Journal and New York Times picked up the trending pattern –they monitor social media – and then the media attention went through the roof.
A Google representative on the panel said the Dawn Wall climb generated ore than a billion media impressions.
Google searches for rock climbing during the Dawn Wall project increased 1,065 percent, she said, and searches for El Capitan increased 960 percent.
Most of the adventures featured in the Banff films are much less exposed. Bringing them to an audience is what the festival is about.
“Salween Spring” is a 9 minute video about a guy who tries to plant an environmental seed by taking local kids out in rafts and kayaks on one of the last undammed rivers in China.
“Curiosity” features ultra-runners covering 100 miles in the alps in a race that runs through Italy, France and Switzerland to circumnavigate Mont Blanc. Hikers often take 10 days to do the route. “The chick in the movie runs it in 26 hours,” Bridgers said. “After 15 hours she was running through the night at a pace I could only dream about.”
Films about a rescue helicopter in Nepal, skiers chasing a lunar eclipse, setting kite-skiing record in Lapland, a woman who swims naked year-round in the cold mountain lakes of Snowdonia, Wales, and other surprises — all are possible candidates for the World Tour in Spokane.
“Killer good films will be screened every night,” Bridgers said. “We never know exactly what will show until the last minute, but these filmmakers are always coming up with good stuff.”
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