Extreme-sports fans are wary of any activity that doesn’t come saddled with warnings and disclaimers, so here are a few for the ever-popular Banff Mountain Film Festival World Tour, which returns to Brevard College for a seventh year this week: Not every film will get your heart pumping (unless tying a fly accelerates your adrenaline output). Not every film will make you think (although the one with the clumsy paragliding granddad is reportedly sparking belly laughs up and down the circuit). And not every entry reveres the grandeur of the earth (back to granddad).
These caveats come courtesy of the festival’s official Web site, where the frequently-asked-questions section suggests festival fans are frequently a bunch of jerks: “Why did you show that one-sided, politically controversial film?,” complains one viewer.
While Banff has a reputation for wallowing in scenic, death-defying hijinks, recent lineups have hinted there’s more to mountains than scaling icebergs and eating one’s hiking buddies. The biggest hit at Brevard College last year was a 50-minute filmic chronicle of a man walking his dog across Australia.
“There’s always good stuff,” says Kyle Lo Porto, the school’s interim assistant dean of campus life. Lo Porto, a sometime kayaker, oversees the campus’ annual festival-selection process, winnowing down the 25 entries supplied by the World Tour into a manageable and crowd-pleasing schedule of 10 to 15 films. Lo Porto’s method involves screening the candidates for a group of outdoorsy students, who “cheer for what they like.” The applause-meter reading, combined with Lo Porto’s expertise, determines the program.
“Students always like adrenaline,” Lo Porto offers.
But as the audience’s embracing of the canine-walkabout doc suggests, cultural, environmental and cerebral adventure films are all welcomed into the fold.
The 25 films granted passports for the world tour were plucked from the Banff festival for their easy encapsulation of festival themes: There won’t be any excruciating epics featuring an ice climber’s careful ascent in real time.
“It’s not the Banff festival; it’s a distillation of the festival,” explains world-tour manager Jim Baker, who oversees the road show. “It’s a lot of two-minute films. But they cover the range of visions and formats.” Soliochairliftquist, a four-minute profile of a ski bum who has an epiphany while riding a ski lift, made the cut. So did Hockey Night … In Ladakh, a documentary about a group of aging Canadian Embassy employees who hit the rink in the Himalayas, and The Khumbu Mighty Mites, aka Nepalese children frolicking in the snow. Baker, who rarely toys with a host site’s program selection, concedes that some viewers on the festival’s international six-month circuit refuse to watch anything that doesn’t make them sweat with excitement.
“We do get certain local hosts who may say, ‘We’re a ski crowd, and we want to show lots of ski films and lots of action,’” he admits.
In 2004, Banff responded with the now annual Radical Reels tour, billed as a program “for audiences who prefer all action films.” While the tour doesn’t dip any deeper south than Massachusetts, Baker predicts the lineup for the standard World Tour should please Western North Carolina filmgoers, who have developed a reputation as among the most enthusiastic audiences visited by Banff. Baker says more than 1,000 people will gather for each screening at Brevard College, a number that’s extreme even by Banff standards.
“They’re some of the biggest shows in North America,” Baker says. “These shows are extremely popular.”
After its run at Brevard College, the Banff van – home to all the films and an exhausted support team, it’s been on the road since three days after the blowout October festival in Banff – will mosey on to Boone for another showing. The schools join UNC-Greensboro as the only sites statewide to host the festival this year.
“We get a lot more requests for shows in North Carolina,” says Baker. “Logistically, we just can’t do it.”
The tour travels to 30 countries and 37 states, including spots where the on-screen mountains may be the viewers’ only chance to experience elevation.
“We go all over the world to some flat and remote places,” Baker said. Even Kansas.
[Contributing writer Hanna Miller is based in Asheville.]
Brevard College hosts the Banff Mountain Film Festival World Tour at the Porter Center for the Performing Arts (400 N. Broad St.) on Saturday, March 18 at 7 p.m. and on Sunday, March 19 at 4 p.m. Tickets are $12 per screening (advance), $15 the day of the show. Tickets are available through Mast General Store in Asheville. 884-8246.