Adventure on the big screen

There’s a certain majesty to the act of scaling an impossible summit, pitting body and gear against nature’s greatest challenges. There’s also the brotherhood of the climb, an exclusive club made up of folks who’ve been there, who’ve seen it. That’s the impression I get from all the TV shows I’ve seen, anyway.

Commitment: A scene from Mountains Without Borders, directed by Michael Brown. Serac Films, courtesy The Banff Centre

You see, the elation of mastering an untamable landscape is lost on people like me. The idea of scratching my way up a rock so I can have a nice view for a few minutes before risking my neck getting down again doesn’t appeal to me half as much as, say, almost anything that can be done in my living room. And when it comes to mountaineering, I’d definitely rather watch someone else do it—preferably with all the slow parts edited out.

But when I’m in the mood for a harrowing tale of people risking their lives for the sake of getting to the top, I’d be lying if I said I wanted anything but the best. I want real danger; I want real risk; I also want a comfortable seat.

Thankfully, there’s the Banff Mountain Film Festival. Originating at the Banff Centre in Banff, Canada, the festival collects the year’s best mountain-oriented features and short films, mixing adrenaline-soaked adventure stories with think pieces on environmentalism, conservation and the unique culture of those who long to touch the very hem of heaven’s veil. But the story doesn’t end in Banff.

“When the festival in Banff is over, the winning films are taken on a world tour,” explains Stan Seals, one of the organizers of the festival’s upcoming stop in at Appalachian State University in Boone. This year’s winners, he says, will have more than 260 showings covering all seven continents, and the festival has expanded to include book and photography competitions.

The Boone screening, says Seals, is one of the bigger Banff events in North America, largely because of the support of ASU students and the outdoor-adventure community the town is known for. “The festival relates to a large audience up here,” he reports. “A lot of people in Boone have a big interest in mountain sports, as well as in environmental and cultural issues. We’re also one of the few screenings of these films in the Southeast, and we’re pulling in a big audience from all over.”

That audience, too, keeps getting bigger. “A few years ago, [the event] got too big for the Greer Auditorium [which seats 450],” he says. “Since then, we’ve held it in the Farthing Auditorium [which seats 1,800]. But even that is too small. Last year, the screenings had sold out before the doors opened; we’re expecting the same this year.”

The ASU event will feature two nights of screenings, with a different selection of feature-length and short films each night. As Seals explains, one of the biggest challenges in creating the schedule is deciding which films not to screen.

“We’ve been watching the selection that is available, and we’ve seen some really good films,” he says. And while the committee hadn’t finalized its list at press time, Seals was willing to discuss his personal favorite.

“One of the films I’m most excited about is Tyrol: Land in the Mountains, which is a great, environmentally focused film,” he says. Besides sweeping images of the Tyrolean Alps, which speak to the avid backpacker and climber in Seals, he also notes the excellent score by Philip Glass.

The films will be screened Saturday and Sunday, March 24 and 25, in ASU’s Farthing Auditorium, starting at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $12 at the door; advance tickets are $7 students, $9 nonstudents. Due to the strong demand, those wishing to attend are strongly encouraged to get their tickets in advance. For more information or to reserve tickets, call (828) 262-5111. For more information on the Banff Mountain Film Festival, visit www.banffmountainfestivals.ca.

[Steve Shanafelt occasionally ventures into the great outdoors in order to get coffee or return some videos. He can be reached at sshanafelt@mountainx.com.]

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