By Alexia Barrett
The thrill of travel, the inspiration of a journey and the adrenaline that comes with the extreme. All of that is brought out in the BANFF Mountain film festival’s first online collection, which is made up of five handpicked adventure films: Sand in the Sky, The Mirnavator, The Lorax project, The Last Honey Hunter, and Snowflake.
This first collection gives us 90 minutes of exploration through the gorgeous landscapes of Hawaii, Tasmania, Nepal, Switzerland and the many places in-between. All through the perspective of fantastic trail runs, skiing, base jumping and many other extreme sports.
So, like any film enthusiast, I got comfortable, prepared some snacks and sat down to watch the first collection in the order that BANFF recommended. Here are my reviews and feelings about these films.
Sand in the Sky
This was the first film that BANFF recommended to watch. With a length of only 4 minutes and 28 seconds, Sand in the Sky is the shortest of all the films, but that short length by no means makes it insignificant. In fact, with the opening shot of a rather large stuffed elephant seat, it strikes a rather unique and home-filled chord which is quite settled for a film on adventure and travel.
Sand in the Sky by Gnarlybot allows us to sit back and view the efforts of a family travelling with their 8-month-old child, Ollie. We watch as they make their journey through the Hawaiian plains, through their stunning shots of trees, mountains, waves, waterfalls, birds and flowers. The cinematography of all these amazing establishing shots and their use of focus and light and lens flares. It is candy for the eyes.
In combination with the music composed by Jared Blizzard and Slow Meadow is the sometimes diegetic and other times non-diegetic narration of Ollie as he describes his dream. All his words coincide with the beautiful images that this short film presents us. Frames of Ollie playing with his Mum or Dad as they hike or go through trails and play on the sun-kissed beach. All in all Sand in the sky is simply beautiful, it warms the heart with the subtle peace that we feel when we see family and fills our eyes with the beauty of exploration.
Simply, it’s a beautiful film.
The second film in the collection, the Mirnavator, is an inspiring documentary that within 11 minutes and 7 seconds pulls us through the struggles of professional trail runner Mirna Valerio a.k.a the Minravator. We are introduced to the Minavator with a powerful reading of an extremely negative review someone has emailed to her. The review criticised her abilities as a runner, and all her work, due to her being overweight.
The film cuts from shots of Mirna talking about her experiences being a black and overweight runner. Then the film goes to shots of her running on the trail, following her with her friends and shows Mirna putting the work in and completely undermining the negativity of that review, while we can still hear her speaking offscreen.
She proudly says that “I may not be fast, I may be the last person, but for me, that doesn’t matter.” She shows how she didn’t let that horrible review ruin her moment and her journey. Compared to the previous film, Sand in the Sky, the cinematography of this is far less beautiful or scenic but the message is very clear here. And, we fall in love with Mirna and her determination and work ethic while we watch all of this. Overall, The Mirnavator is a serious motivator.
The Lorax project
Now, The Lorax Project. Honestly, I don’t know where to start. There’s a lot to unpack with this film. The story, the stunning visuals, the amazing camerawork, the clear and entertaining narration, and the invigorating editing.
Truly the Lorax Project took my breath away in more ways than one.
The Lorax Project follows six men: Kamil Sustiak, Martin Buchauer, Lee Jackson, Pete Wyllie, Jared Irwin and Simon Blair as they climb and document their journey up the Frenchman’s cap to complete an amazing base jump. A climb that would take them up the southeast face of the mountain in the western part of the island of Tasmania.
Truly it was a breathtaking journey, where all these men with a passion for sports, some for climbing others for base jumping, came together. It was a unique blend of bonding and adrenaline filled adventuring.
The Lorax is 350 meters long, in a remote part of Tasmania. If an accident were to happen they’d have no help. When they started climbing the Lorax I felt the hairs on my arms stand on end with nervousness, as I worried for their climb and prayed that they’d get to the top with no issues. Yet one thing after the other occurred, the mountain face was slippery, the weather wasn’t in their favour. But, then when the weather cleared, and the music became much more hopeful, there was this swell of hope and excitement because I knew they were going to succeed. And they did, on this crazy and euphoric adventure, they made it and the next day they base jumped from that stunning location.
On a cinematic level, the director Pete Wyllie and producer Simon Blair did an amazing job. Their sense of perspective, nostalgia and presence which they maintained throughout the film with their great use of camera angle, in-camera effects and dolly-zooms brought out the beauty of this film and this journey. I was particularly fond of their use of aerial shots in combination with time-lapse. Seeing the landscape change rapidly through the sped up time was amazing. Also, the quality of the film, in general, was just amazing. My favourite shot came 25 minutes into the film when they’re waking up on top of the Lorax and the sun is just rising and they’re all in their sleeping bags, it was just a seriously beautiful shot. And, when Kamil finally base jumps off the Lorax into that mountainous landscape and mist, it’s all just simply cathartic. You can feel the joy and the sensations of success and glee that they all feel from this.
And tying all of these beautiful images and this amazing journey together is Kamil’s great voice and relaxing narration. Altogether such an amazing film, a definite par above, such a great addition to this collection.
The Last Honey Hunter
A joint project between Camp4 Collective and Felt Soul Media in association with National Geographic, and the DZI foundation, this film takes us to the steep mountain jungles of Nepal’s Hongu River valley.
The documentary introduces us to members of the isolated Kulung culture who live in this remote region and have risked their lives for generations to scale dangerous cliffs and collect wild and toxic honey.
For 35 minutes and 51 seconds, we are taken into the deep and misty world of the forest.
Opening shot allows us to settle into the forest mood of Nepal as we hear the pitter-patter of off-screen rain and read some text about the largest Honeybee in Nepal, where they have honey with amazing medicinal effects that fetches a high price in Kathmandu and is an integral source of income to those that live in the remote village of Saadi.
We hear the voice of the Honey Hunter as he talks about the job, his words translated to English in subtitles sitting on the end of the screen. Aerial shots of the small village of Saadi, shots of the rain and tropical forest and mountain regions. The scenic close-ups of the working villagers, and the playing children, combined with the on-screen sounds of nature (the birds tweeting, and the water flowing) is just calming and lovely.
It’s all just a lovely portrayal of life and harmony, and a great outlook into a completely different culture.
The real thrill of this film comes when we see the Honey hunter and his companions harvesting the dangerous honey, climbing great heights and handling the poison. The shots of them surrounded by bees without any real protection is extremely nerve-wracking. It’s shocking yet beautiful.
An extremely intriguing film.
Snowflake is the last film in the collection, but by no means least. In 7 minutes 20 seconds, we sit down and chat with Snowflake, Henry, a free and eccentric spirit and Swiss Skier.
As he describes the rush of skiing and the adrenaline of being on the snow, we witness some stunning action shots of skiers. Snowflake tells us about his life philosophy that’s just as beautiful and free as himself.
He’s sitting on the top of a snow-covered mountain, the background is more white sheets as a gorgeous bright sun winks in the corner.
The great use of lens flare, and the slightly too loud background music, as we listen to Snowflakes voice and watch the beauty of the Swiss mountains and feel the energy from the skilled skiers, is great.
It feels so energised that it goes far too quickly, it was too brief, I was left wanting to see more of Snowflake and the Swiss mountains.
With those five short films, we have the adventure fist collection of the BANFF Mountain Film Festival. Five extremely gorgeous, unique, and heartfelt journeys through nature and perspective.