Surprises and Ski Bums Abound at Banff Mountain Film Festival

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Feb. 5, opening day of the Banff Mountain Film Festival at the Egyptian Theatre, was filled with the short, but rich and entertaining films All.I.Can: The Short Cut; The Trail Collector; The Man and the Mammoth; Solitaire; and Reel Rock: Origins—Obe & Ashima, in addition to the two longer films Kadoma and Chasing Water.

Kadoma starts hard and fast, like the roaring waves doubling over the heads of single-man kayaks that look like specks against the landscape. It ends at the bottom of the human experience, the tragedy and sorrow of loss. The pace of the 42-minute film slows and surges like the waters it takes place on. The kayaker's journey of descent—from the highest highs to the lowest lows—is both metaphor and storyline for Kadoma. A beautiful tribute to South-African kayaker and explorer Hendri Coetzee, Kadoma inspires viewers to live like Coetzee—fully, despite the risks.

The other long-ish film that ran on opening day of Banff also follows the trail of a river. Chasing Water is a film about Peter McBride's surprising discovery that the Colorado River doesn't reach the sea anymore. A National Geographic photojournalist, McBride draws attention to the need for water conservation through mostly aerial photographs which reveal the many "straws" sucking water from the Colorado. The ravenous thirst for the river is causing it to dry up. In a tour that features many films shot in exotic foreign locales, Chasing Water makes a compelling case for the stories yet to be told in the American West.

All.I.Can is refreshing in its take on snow films. Rather than showing direct shots of a skier making his or her way down the side of a giant mountain, the short lets viewers journey through the seasons with superimposed images of winter, summer, spring and fall. The creativity of All.I.Can feels a bit like an animated film. It gets creative with marketing, as well. The full-length-version of the film is available through iTunes and the film closes with a nudge to go check out the whole thing.

Feb. 6, the second day of Banff, ended in surprise with the film Cold. It was surprising in that it removed the idealism from adventure and instead focused intensely on the raw emotion of facing death. Cold follows alpinist Cory Richards' ascent and descent on a Himalayan peak in 50-below freezing weather. Frostbitten and dark, with bits of humor thrown in, Cold is worth the watch.

Another highlight from the second day of the fest was On the Trail of Genghis Khan: The Last Frontier. The film turned out to be less of a historical docudrama and more about a young man's personal journey. Somewhere in his three-year trek from Mongolia to Hungary, Tim Cope taps into his nomadic spirit by finding joy in solitude and becoming attached to his only companions: three horses and a dog named Tigon. The second day of Boise's Banff fest featured the last episode of a four-part series.

Rock- and ice-climbing enthusiasts were treated to Reel Rock: Ice Revolution and Grand Libre au Grand Cap. Both films amazed audiences with unbelievable footage of climbing pioneers. In Grand Libre, Arnaud Petit and Stephanie Bodet inch their way up a giant granite wall that looks like it barely has any holds until they reach a 3,900-meter pinnacle at Chamonix-Mont Blanc. The pair starts before sunrise and finishes around sunset.

Two four-minute films shown at Banff are also worth tracking down. Seasons: Fall, a short made by Boiseans Ryan Bailey and Skip Armstrong, is a pure and simple statement on the joy of kayaking. Ski Bums Never Die follows a band of 70-plus-year-old skiers who still pine for powder. Each season, the group packs into the back of a rinky-dink truck to ride its backyard. And the group does it with all the style and grace of any young ski bum.

Another short film, The Freedom Chair, reminds us all that life is what you make of it. Winner of Banff's Best Film—Mountain Sports, Freedom Chair is Josh Dueck's personal essay about returning to skiing after an accident that leaves him paralyzed from the waist down. In short, Dueck returns and thrives in his favorite sport.

Tonight is closing night for the Banff Mountain Film Festival. Films include On Assignment: Jimmy Chin; Reel Rock: Sketchy Andy; SPOIL; Towers of the Ennedi; Hanuman Airlines; Seasons: Winter; and C.A.R.C.A.

Tickets are $20 and doors open at 6 p.m., the show starts at 7 p.m.