OK so yesterday, a fellow film-lover and I journeyed to Cardiff to attend the seventh year of the Banff Mountain Film Festival, though neither of us had actually been before; we had never actually heard about it until August of last year. Upon arriving, we soon discovered that it was a pretty popular event and reading about the list of featured films certainly upped my interest. It was also plain to see that this event was being sponsored, quite heavily, by companies like Cotswold Outdoor and Keen; quite soon after, it became apparent that the target audience was primarily outdoorsy types, with an emphasis on rock climbing, biking and surfing – the programme even stated “you’re here because you love the outdoors and adventure!” In this regard, we were probably fish out of water but ultimately, this was still an interesting experience.

There were seven short films shown in total, the subjects ranging from ultra-running to rock climbing and skiing. Many of them seemed more like adverts and one or two were perhaps simply previews of the feature length versions. In any case, all had their merits and here is a rundown on the films that were shown.

Unreal

This film was all about biking and at only 12 minutes long, was clearly a preview of the longer version. Anyway, most of it seemed like an advert for biking and carried the message of “break free from the ordinary and follow your dreams”. Later scenes were a showcase of biking professionals, featuring a heavy use of slo-mo and dirt showers.

The standout scene featured a single tracking shot of a biker performing all kinds of tricks and stunts down a long, grassy hill, set to Buffalo Springfield’s “For What it’s Worth”, perfectly keeping in synch with the action on screen. This sequence was indeed awe inspiring and successfully managed to keep all eyes glued to the screen, being very interesting and engaging.

Curiosity

This 13 minute film was all about three ultra-marathoners running the Ultra-Trail du Mont Blanc. Its central “characters” were: Timothy Olson, who we learned had a history of drug use but gave it up for the love of his family and the spiritual fulfilment of running, Rory Bosio, an upbeat, kooky character with a most memorable frog shower cap and accompanying song and Hal Koerner, the agile joker who was described as being the group’s George Clooney, though he certainly looked more like Ben Affleck.

Anyway as with all good films, this clearly had its central characters each with a certain goal/objective and it was very well structured, interesting and funny. If there is a longer version, I wouldn’t be adverse to watching it.

Unbranded

Now, this was a good one. At 43 minutes, this was the longest of the night’s films and probably the best; it actually won the Banff people’s choice award, so I guess that a lot of other people thought so too.

Anyway, this one was all about four young Texans, primarily featuring Ben Masters, and their mission to ride a string of wild horses 3,000 miles from the Mexican border to Canada. Making use of interview segments and map graphics, the film perfectly balances a sense of joviality, with scenes involving the guys messing around, playing cards and reading “50 Shades of Gray” with much more tense, nail-biting scenes involving leading the horses along narrow cliff edges, through the Grand Canyon and up steep, rocky hills.

Throughout all of this, the visuals were excellent and the audience was fully able to support and sympathise with the central group. It is admirable that the film is full of both comedy and danger and the fact that these are all real people made it all the more important and fascinating. In a way, it can be compared to “The Revenant” and in all honesty, “Unbranded” is probably the better film, since it has a better “story” and far more interesting, real life “characters”!

Oh, and there is the most awesome donkey in it. 😊

Pretty Faces

This 11 minute film was all about female skiiers, primarily featuring Rachel Burks and her dream of skiing along a certain snow “spine” in Alaska.

There were indeed some great visuals, most noticeably the POV shot as she went down the “spine” and an earlier scene when she was downed by falling snow. Other than that, there was not much to be taken away from this.

Denali

This 8 minute film was all about surfer/photographer Ben Moon and his relationship with his dog Dinali, both of whom were diagnosed with Cancer. The film is told from Denali’s perspective, though annoyingly, I didn’t figure this out until the final minute!

Anyway, the film is nonetheless clearly very heartfelt, warm, funny and passionate, though I was perhaps more interested in reading about it in the programme, rather than watching the film itself…

A Line Across The Sky

Ah, now we come to the big finish, the 40 minute long winner of the Banff award for best film in the “climbing” category. This film was all about Tommy Caldwell and Alex Honnold and their mission to conquer the Fitz Roy traverse, four miles and 13,000 feet of snow and ice-covered rock, previously considered impossible.

In true documentary style, the film looks at the lives of the central climbers, exploring their motivations, dreams and feelings, containing interviews to convey the information. In addition, we get to see their family lives, putting definite warmth and humanity to the tale. From then on, we are given hand-held camera footage and graphics, illustrating the path of Tommy and Alex and capturing their struggle and hardships.

Overall, this is certainly an enlightening film, able to educate its audience about this incredible mountain range, of which I hadn’t heard of previously, and successfully allows us to fully support and go along with the two guys. As someone who usually avoids non-fiction films about the great outdoors, I definitely appreciate this film and applaud the efforts of all involved. The guys’ win of the Piolet d’Or is very well deserved!

Homefree 

And finally, though perhaps not actually an official film, we were given this very short film brought to us by “Visit the Isle of Man”; the whole film is essentially an advert with that very same message. It quite simply features a young man, whose name escapes me, apologies, freerunning through the gorgeous Isle of Man, showcasing its picturesque views and sights.

Well, there’s not much to say except that it is indeed gorgeous, the music was perfectly used and the freerunning was spot on!

So all in all, this was a unique experience and I am glad that I got a chance to go. Not all of the films were perfect and maybe we weren’t exactly the target audience, but it was still enlightening, interesting and engaging.

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