The Great Eight: Banff Mountain Film Festival at the Michigan Theater
It’s been over 20 years since the Banff Mountain Film Festival launched its “world tour,” bringing various films from the competition to over 40 countries and hundreds of cities around the world. Ann Arbor has been lucky enough to be a stop on the tour for more than a decade.
The film festival, which takes place at Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada each fall, features short films and documentaries about outdoor recreation of all sorts. Eight of the best films from the festival were shown at the Michigan Theater this past Tuesday evening.
This year’s selections offered a refreshing dose of unusual sports and unique humor. The festival opened with Metronomic, a 5-minute film from France about a team of “flying musicians.” The stuntmen swing off of tight-ropes and parachute off of cliffs, all while playing their respective instruments. Most amazing was the drummer, Freddy Montigny, who flew with his entire drum set.
Next was a film about canine sports, Dog Power, that covered much more than dog sledding. Focusing on the lasting relationships that form between athletes and their dogs in dog-powered sports, the film showed canicross (running with dogs), bikjoring (biking with dogs), skijoring (skiing behind a team of dogs), and various distances and team sizes of sled-dog racing. It was fascinating to learn about the breeding and care that goes into making dogs into athletes. One racer emphasized that the dogs are just as important a part of the team as the human. Banff Film Festival’s films often focus on skiing and snowboarding, climbing or mountain biking, so it was exciting and heartwarming to see a film like Dog Power.
Another feel-good film from the show was Four Mums in a Boat, the amazing story of four middle-aged British mothers who decide to compete in a race rowing a boat across the Atlantic Ocean. They all met one another while dropping their kids off at school, and took up rowing on the local river. After learning about the 3,000-mile race across the Atlantic, one of the mothers convinced the other three to sign up for it with her. The film showcases the trials and tribulations that the women undergo as they spend almost 70 days (20 more than planned) rowing across the ocean. From a loss of power (meaning they had to spend 10 hours a day hand-pumping ocean water through a filter to make it potable) and a broken rudder to rowing into Hurricane Alex, the women demonstrate admirable strength, endurance, and determination, and a great deal of humor.
Young Guns is a 30-minute film about two young rock climbers, was also a crowd-favorite. Kai Lightner was 15 years old when the film was made and Ashima Shiraishi was just 14. The two are gaining worldwide notoriety as the film opens, winning national championships and beating climbers much older than them. Friends both at the climbing gym and outside of it, they spend their spring break traveling together with their families to Norway, where extra challenging rocks put their skills to the test. Their quiet maturity and amazing climbing skills had the audience gasping with delight, especially when Shiraishi becomes both the youngest person ever and the first woman to climb a V15 boulder in Japan at the film’s conclusion.
Other films shown on Tuesday were Being Hear, a brief film about the importance of listening to nature, The Perfect Flight, a five-minute film about falconry, The Super Salmon, about the fight by many Alaskans to protect the Susitna River from being dammed, and Danny MacAskill’s Wee Day Out, a charming, amusing film about one man’s day mountain biking through rural Ireland. Banff Mountain Film Festival, which is locally sponsored by U-M’s Recreational Sports association, Moosejaw, and Bivouac, is a special treat each year. The films offer viewers the chance to see aspects of outdoor sports and life that often aren’t captured at the Olympics or other major televised sporting events, and the unique perspective that each filmmaker brings to his or her work casts each movie in a different emotional light. This year’s distinctiveness, with its focus on sports like falconry, rowing, and canicross, made for an extra special experience. Luckily for anyone who missed the festival -- or for anyone who is excited to see more outdoor films -- Banff Mountain Film Festival will be back in 2018.
Elizabeth Pearce is a Library Technician at the Ann Arbor District Library.
The Banff Mountain Film Festival world tour stops in Ann Arbor at the Michigan Theater every April.