As soon as the lights fall in the theater and the Banff Mountain Film Festival theme song fills the air, it's hard not to get goosebumps watching people conquer and coexist in the natural world in kayaks, on mountain bikes, hanging from parachutes, scaling rock walls and summiting mountain peaks. For many Boiseans, they are the best three cinematic nights of the year.
Last night's first screening of the Banff World Tour did not disappoint. Nine films ranging from 5 to 40 minutes long offered humor, gripping adventure and inspiration.
For the first time in more than a decade, the festival was hosted at a new venue, the Boise High School auditorium, after the Egyptian Theatre double booked itself with Opera Idaho's performance of La Traviata. The Boise High auditorium seats nearly 1,000 people—300 more than the Egyptian—and, as is the case every year, Banff had no trouble filling the space. Still, there were grumbles from some about the lack of beer and wine on school property.
The prohibition was quickly forgotten once the films began to roll. The first featured a 20-something-year-old guy recreating his father's youth through a 28-day trip down the Grand Canyon on the Colorado River.
Weaving together thoughts about growing up and reconnecting with nature with stunning shots of the canyon walls juxtaposed against scenes of the busy city, The Important Placesserved as a reminder to step outside city limits and enjoy life in the outdoors while our bodies are still capable. The film, from Forest Woodward, featured footage from Boise's own Skip Armstrong.
The second film of the evening was perhaps the most surprising. At 10 minutes in length, The Last Dragonswas produced in partnership with the United States Forest Service. It followed the lives and struggles of the bizarre Eastern Hellbender, an ancient salamander that lives in the streams of the Appalachian Mountains. They're weird, dinosaur-looking water lizards that help ecologists determine the health of rivers and streams. As sediment continues to fill many of the country's waterways, the existence of the salamanders is in jeopardy.
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The Last Dragons, by Freshwaters Illustrated
These bizarre little creatures captured the attention of the Banff Film Fest audience and became a quick favorite among attendees.
Other films included a mountain biking mashup by Teton Gravity Research; a look at an important aid station on a grueling 100-mile foot race through the Colorado mountains; a group of innovative surfers from Montana taking to the Lochsa River; and a humorous, misguided and intense trip by two world-famous climbers taking on the seven-peak Fitz Traverse in Patagonia.
Only one of the films focused on a female—Bluehue. It followed the dreadlocked Natasha Brooks as she dove into pristine mountain lakes completely naked and in the middle of winter. The shots were hypnotizing and beautiful, but disappointing that the only film focusing on women was sexualized.
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Eclipse, by Salomon Freeski TV
The pursuit for the perfect picture took a team of skiers to the craggy mountains of the Arctic, suffering through melting ice, bitter weather and increasing doubt in the film Eclipse.
The standout of the night's lineup was a 32-minute piece called Eclipse, following the grueling journey of a handful of skiers and one idealistic photographer hellbent on capturing the perfect shot of a skier backlit by the solar eclipse that happened on March 20, 2015. That dream took the team to the craggy mountains of the Arctic, suffering through melting ice, bitter weather and increasing doubt. With only 2 1/2 minutes to get the perfect shot, the result was stunning, uplifting and exciting.
The lineup of films on Tuesday, Jan. 26 follow some intense weekend warriors, 3,000 miles on a horse, aerobatic paragliding, pitch dark mountain biking, ultra-marathon running through the Alps, and a profile of Britain's first female mountain guide as she scrambles barefoot through her favorite British landscapes.
Wednesday, Jan. 27 promises to be as exciting and diverse as the other nights, with films on two women's speed ascent up El Cap, rafting through China's soon-to-be-dammed rivers, and the memory of a special, four-legged friend. A full schedule can be viewed here.
As always, the Banff Mountain Film Festival will be the best $18 spent all year.