By Andrew M. Collins
The World famous BANFF Mountain Film Festival tour arrived in Brighton last night with a stunning collection of action packed and emotive short films, plus freebies and generous bonhomie. Starting in 1975 in Banff, Canada, the film festival has gone from strength to strength over the years and now tours to around 300 communities in 40 countries. It is the sixth time they have visited the UK.
We watched in awe as a paraglider dipped, dived and drifted across some of the best of the countryside Europe has to offer; marvelled at Conga the dog’s snow bound athleticism in Patagonia; travelled the world with brave mountaineers; braved a harsh middle eastern desert with two English lads; defied gravity on two wheels in the Isle of Sky; fished for memories in Normandy; marvelled at Alaskan sprites flitting down mountains and suffered in the American Southwest.
He was described by the evening’s host as a ‘creative Frenchman’. Cheeky, certainly, as he paraglided at low to zero altitude, buzzing the locals in some of the most spectacular locations in Europe and even, at one point, touching down atop a moving coach, Mission Impossible style. Jean Baptiste-Chandelier has mastered his art to the Nth degree, pulling off some breathtaking aerial work with his ‘chute. Clever shots and astonishing flying. Very much a crowd pleaser and a brilliant ending.
INTO THE EMPTY QUARTER
Following – almost – in the footsteps of explorer and writer Wilfred Thesiger, one of Britain’s last great explorers, two English lads Alistair Humphreys and Leon McCarron trek across the Rub al Khali – The Empty Quarter, the great desert of Arabia. Thesiger did it twice, Alistair and Leon once – but no doubt much better fed as generous locals donated food along the way. We start out in England as they explain why they want to do the trip and how they might accomplish it.
They end up creating a metal framed cart with which to wheel their gear around, and very amusingly test it out … on Margate Beach. Then we are in the Arabian Peninsula – and the cart doesn’t even make it out of town. Modifications are made by helpful locals then they are on their way. It’s arduous – relentless sand, unbearable heat and featureless vista. The 300kg cart is painfully hauled step by step. Finally, they trudge exhausted but exhilarated into Dubai and the end of their quest. It’s engaging, funny and honest, one of my favourite shorts of the night.
Powdered snow, skiis, fur and tail fly as rider and dog both enjoy the pleasures of the beautiful Patagonia mountain ranges. Conga, the dog of the title, is more at home outside than in, and clearly revels in the landscape. He pelts down steep ravines and inclines after his owner, fearless as he bounds and leaps through the snow. Featuring fantastic photography and music, Sundog is a heart-warming, thoroughly enjoyable short.
Cycling legend Danny McAskill gave us all motion sickness and vertigo in his film The Ridge. He’d never cycled the ridge running the length of the Isle of Sky. In an epic seven minutes he ascends then traverses the bleak, forbidding mountain with its jagged peaks, cold grey flanks and smattering of pools – to end up at the ‘inaccessible pinnacle’. McAskill has quite extraordinary control over his mountain bike as he leaps, pivots and flips his way around, finally ending up back at the sea shore. Stunning photography, including drone work and, of course, the ubiquitous Go-Pro pov shots.
A biking and climbing fest ensued with Cedar Wright and Alex Honnold in Sufferfest 2. In Sufferfest 1, they surmounted 15 of the tallest peaks California had to offer; this time they’re after 45 across the American Southwest. Some might say crazy, and there certainly was a fair bit of suffering, but the ‘elite dirtbag and ‘scrappy climber’ take us on a fabulous journey. The landscapes look awesome, the climbing shots breathtaking. There was some 800 miles of biking in all as they travelled across Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and Arizona.
Wright and Honnold also put their climbing expertise to good community use through the alternative energy charity project, The Honnold Foundation, and we see them installing clean solar energy panels on homes in the Navajo Nation. It makes the film even more personable and appealing.
It’s what Go-pro was invented for. Or at least one of the most striking and memorable films a Go-Pro camera has helped produced. Take the Alaska countryside, some ultra cool LED suits, a whole lotta snow, camera gear and shoot at night. It’s been hailed as one of the most profound skiing films ever made and I certainly can’t argue with that. Every frame a delight – jaw dropping imagery. It’s a cliché, but it really has to be seen to be believed.
Perhaps the most accomplished film of the evening was Drawn. The title comes from the excellent line art and graphics done by the director and star, Jeremy Collins. We first see his work in the superb opening sequence. The piece is really a homage to Jeremy’s climbing friend Jonny Copp who died in an mountain accident in China. Jeremy and various friends travel to the four corners of the globe to spread some of Jonny’s ashes at each of the locations: China Mongolian border, Venezuelan Amazon, North Canada and the Yosemite Valley in California.
It’s also a very personal film for Collins as he explains his feelings on a wide variety of subjects including death, love, failure, joy, parenting and dreams. It’s a hugely accomplished piece, both in scope and production, with superb artwork by Collins, excellent camera work and editing. In Venezuela, the climb had to be called off because of injury, but the team returned a year later to complete the ‘four points of the compass’ and finally spread the ashes of their friend at the summit. It’s full of spirit and courage, and particularly thoughtful.
MENDING THE LINE
This was the BANFF’s People’s Choice Winner. It tells the story of Frank Moore, now 90, who braved the beaches of Normandy in WWII. In this moving film, he returns to France with his wife and son, to try and heal the wounds of the past, fly-fishing in streams and rivers he helped liberate.
Frank is a very likeable person, and gives a wonderful interview throughout the piece. The remarkable thing is that he hasn’t been before, and one hopes it bought him the closure he was seeking.
An extremely positive and inspiring festival, full of vim, vigour, veracity and vertigo. BANFF really put together a superb collection of shorts, and the level of film making truly is world class. It’s great to see adventurous creatives artistically explore their sport or chart their endeavours using new technology and indeed sometimes risking their lives to produce remarkable pieces. I’ll certainly be back next year for some more visual adrenaline shots and moving stories.
BANFF are currently advertising for Trail Team members – if you help out at a local screening you will receive free tickets and other goodies.
The films are next showing at the Playhouse, Western Supermare on Wednesday 15th April. The tour programme can be seen here: