Banff Mountain documentaries are selected to impress even seasoned adventurers.
But watching other people soar off mountain peaks at inhuman heights, struggle through thunderous rapids and scale deadly ice and rock doesn’t satisfy local student Joseph Moerschbaecher.
“I find myself restless in my seat, wanting to go have my own adventures instead of watching other people’s,” he admitted in a recent interview. Moerschbaecher, 22, is a senior majoring in wilderness leadership at Brevard College, where the Banff Mountain Film Festival stops for its fifth-annual two-day run on March 29 and 30.
Founded in 1976 in the Canadian Rockies, the traveling event celebrates the spirit of environmental exploration and extreme outdoor sports by selecting the best mountain-adventure-themed films worldwide.
The tour brings top documentaries, videos and photos to 100,000 viewers on six continents.
This year’s 264 film entries, which come from 31 different countries, were corralled into such categories as mountain sports, mountain environment and mountain culture.
Among this year’s potential highlights on the tour’s Brevard stop is Escape Over the Himalayas: Tibet’s Children on Their Journey Into Exile, a documentary of a potentially deadly religious retreat wherein youth must scale the world’s highest mountain range on their way to Nepal (and eventually India).
Film and photo-contest subjects also include mustang-horse wrangling, Afghan-Pakistani border life and the triumph of Kevin Connolly, a 16-year-old legless skier going for the gold at the U.S. Disabled Alpine Championships.
A daredevil unicyclist, a lethal avalanche rescue and a punishing bike trial are among the other topics that enthralled the festival’s local student organizers, who chose which films would be screened in Brevard.
“These movies are really fun to watch, and they get people pumped up about getting out and having adventures,” enthuses Lark McMillan, 21, vice-president and past president of the college’s 30-member Outing Club, which sponsors the film festival. (Proceeds from Banff provide the bulk of the club’s budget, going for gear and trips.)
“Banff has helped us start a tradition here, and students associate it with the Outing Club,” puts in Rachel Brown, 22, the group’s secretary/treasurer.
But the festival’s benefits extend well beyond the confines of the four-year, private liberal-arts school.
“The films show people that they really can get out and do things that they may not normally do,” McMillan explains. “[The festival] also allows people an escape — even if it is just for a bit — into the lives of adventurers. These films are meant to inspire, and I really think they do.”
Younger extreme-sports enthusiasts often talk of trying the feats themselves. But older viewers, McMillan notes, typically remark, “I wish I had done that when I was younger.”
Many in Brevard College’s Outing Club are studying environmental-related curriculums. McMillan is a senior majoring in wilderness leadership and experiential education. She’s lined up a job leading therapeutic backpacking trips for at-risk youth, and dreams of teaching outdoor education or running island sea-kayaking tours.
McMillan was inspired to pursue such innovative ambitions after seeing the festival film Berserk last year, about a youth sailing from Norway to Antarctica in a small boat.
“It was a great story about a young person with a crazy idea, and the guts to go through with it,” she recalls. “It reminded me that no matter how insane my ideas might seem, I should do them anyway — because the outcome is usually positive.”
She’d like to try ice climbing or BASE jumping, which involves skydiving off fixed objects — either buildings, antennas, spans (i.e., bridges) or earth (cliffs and the like).
But free-falling off the average American skyscraper apparently won’t do for McMillan anymore; the Banff films have inspired her to try BASE jumping in more exotic locations.
“The festival motivates you to seek adventure beyond your normal trails and travels,” concurs Moerschbaecher.
“[But] adventure is not just traveling across the globe to explore a remote land,” he adds. “Adventure can be found in the mountains that surround our city. It is doing something new, seeing something new, exploring a new area. Or simply traveling along known trails in the dark of night, rather than the light of day.
“I explored places in the mountains I have not been to,” Moerschbaecher reveals, crediting Banff films as inspiration. “I feel like I share the same spirit of adventure as the people who transected the Congo Forest Basin.”
As a student, Moerschbaecher says he relates best to low-budget films about skilled, enthusiastic adventurers who nevertheless lack major financial sponsorship.
Some students like to imagine what they’d film if they could afford expensive video equipment. Brown would document her two favorite sports — “bouldering” with “down-to-earth, average climbers on challenging rock,” and sea kayaking in an “exotic or unique environment with excellent wildlife, cool boats and big water.”
McMillan reveals that she’d opt to film bouldering and rock climbing in “awesome” locations. But she’d choose to show medium-hard routes, in contrast to the “near-to-impossible” climbs featured in festival films.
Those kind of journeys “are not realistic for most people,” McMillan explains. The most memorable adventures, she suggests, are stumbled into rather than choreographed.
“There are so many times I’ve said, ‘I wish I had this on film.’ I tend to get involved in crazy situations, and [I’m] not always sure how I survived.”