BANFF Online Collection 4 | BANFF Mountain Film Festival Review

Still image from "Big World" - BANFF Online Collection 4

By Lauren Stenning

There is something to be said about watching a collection of adventure films at a time when we’re barely allowed to leave the house. Six films into BANFF’s fourth online collection and I have to say, I was not prepared for the level of emotional investment I had subconsciously made, so get ready to be transfixed.

What ties all eight films together is, of course, the theme of adventure but understanding what exactly this means to the people featured in each film reminds us that at the heart of true adventure, is our incredible planet. So much joy can be derived from the natural world and, seeing as nature is the only thing keeping most of us sane at the moment, this touching collection couldn’t have come at a better time to reinforce both our appreciation of Earth and the freedom to explore it. Here’s what you can expect from collection 4:

Of Choss and Lions

Having learnt that choss refers to rock that’s unsuitable for climbing, the title of this first film would suggest some pretty dangerous content. The small team of climbers don’t seem to be phased by the threat of Kenyan wildlife, nor the seemingly impossible rock faces they set about climbing. The only reason I would be climbing a rock or mountain is for the view at the top, so when the climbers embark on a night climb, I realise that we don’t share the same motives. These guys climb for the pure enjoyment of climbing in each other’s morale-boosting company, in spite of challenges like choss and altitude sickness. This quote from one of the climbers sums up his mentality, “I’m not going to remember just how painful the headache was…I’ll always remember how beautiful the landscape was and the glaciers and the climbing and being with my friends on this cool route”. I guess selective memories are a gift that allows us to keep on adventuring.

Bob & Marion

In the second film of the collection, we transition to an older age demographic and a different sport, but we maintain the themes of fitness and adventure. The sporting couple shows us that you can find adventure on your doorstep as they’re filmed running through the Dartmoor countryside alongside wild ponies and free-roaming cows.

Throughout the film, it becomes clear that their lives have been centred around running, with an astounding calculation by Bob that he’s run a total of 35,000 miles in his lifetime, the equivalent of a couple of times around the earth at the equator! Marion also mentions the positive effect of running on her mental health which resonated during this mentally challenging time. Oh, and did I mention the pair are aged 78 and 81?

The Balloon Highline

In complete contrast to Bob and Marion’s steadily paced journey, we’re suddenly thrown into the scene of two hot air balloons rising into the air, connected by a tightrope. As they float higher and higher, I find myself wondering why on earth they don’t just test this out a little lower down. But where would the adventure be in that?

With a lack of tension in the line and an inevitable wind, I considered if I might be about to watch the impossible become possible. With no reassurance of the fearless walker’s safety, we watch them step onto the rope and begin treading carefully. When the walker loses their balance and ends up hanging from the line thousands of feet in the air, I guarantee you’ll gasp out loud. When they inevitably go tumbling to their doom, instead of seeing the reassuring shot of a parachute, we watch a clown in one of the baskets laughing hysterically, a cruel choice from the film’s cameraman and editor, Sébastien Montaz-Rosset. None of the walkers makes it across the line but they plan to try again three days later, a classic, if somewhat literal, message of: if you fall, pick yourself up and try again.

Paul’s Boots

Carrying forward this sense of determination, we embark on the longest film of the collection. Unsurprisingly, we get a real sense of journey in this film, with a clear motive driving all the hikers forward on the Appalachian Trail: Paul. Paul was an avid hiker from Australia with a dream of completing the 2,189-mile trail but he unfortunately passed away before he had the chance. The film begins with an emotional plea from his wife, M’Lynn, that Paul’s boots still make the journey, even though he was unable to.

We journey along the Appalachian Trail with the various hikers who volunteered to carry Paul’s boots with them. Each of the hikers shares their own stories about what walking the trail means to them and how it feels to be carrying Paul’s boots. We struggle with them, we celebrate with them, but most importantly, we’re just with them on this long journey compressed into a short film. The sense of community portrayed through each hiker being alone, yet connected through Paul’s boots, isn’t so far from the current feeling of being alone together.

Sun Dog

With a renewed faith in humanity, I moved on to Sun Dog and enjoyed a very different kind of adventure. Set in the stunning snowy mountains of Refugio Frey, we observe the intimate relationship between a human and a dog who share the slopes. Set to music without any interference from human speech, watching this film is a relaxing experience and just as powerful as any David Attenborough series soundtrack and visuals. The snow whipped up by both the wind and the skis creates a white shield, as if to conceal and preserve this perfectly serene world. Instead of sharing their adventure with other people, the skier shares it with Conga the dog which makes for a beautiful watch.

Big World

My personal favourite from the collection, Big World follows a father-son relationship down the rivers of Nepal. We discover how seven-year-old Thorne reacts when he’s removed from his Seattle life in exchange for a week-long paddleboard down the Karnali, a much more authentic and life-enriching adventure than the classic family holiday to Disneyland. Thorne’s inquisitive mind flourishes on this unique trip as we watch him play with local children without a moment’s hesitancy about language or cultural barriers. We also see him tired and upset with the new world he finds himself in, which reminds us of the vulnerability of children, but also of the temporal nature of the lows we face on adventures which soon fade into insignificance when we look back on our experiences.

The film is narrated by Thorne’s father, David, who constantly contemplates his decision to bring his son on this trip, questioning his parenting choices like most good parents do. He likens their journey together on the paddleboard to their journey together as father and son, pointing out that parenting is also an adventure. Growing up and discovering who you want to be is an adventure. This film cleverly combines physical adventure with mental adventure and is sure to bring a smile to your face.

Loved By All: The Story of Apa Sherpa

The penultimate film approaches our traditional sense of adventure from a different angle and frames something relatively normal, even mundane to most first-world citizens, as adventurous: education. Apa Sherpa, who worked as a high-altitude porter on Mount Everest, narrates the film which tells his story and represents the lives that the Sherpa community lead.

Facilitating adventure for others means dangerous work for young Sherpas trying to provide for their families. Education is the only route to safer, better-paid jobs, but hours of journeying a day to and from school leave Sherpa children exhausted and hungry. It’s quite a contrast from Big World where David facilitates an adventure for his son with relative ease. The story of Apa Sherpa shifts our understanding of adventurous dreams: they don’t always equate to physical challenges.

Drainage Ditch Kayaking

There couldn’t be a more drastic change in tone to conclude this collection of adventure films. The shortest of them all, just shy of three minutes, Drainage Ditch Kayaking is exactly what it says on the tin, a fast, exciting and adrenalin-fuelled adventure of two YOLO attitude kayakers. It’s shot from onboard one of the kayaks so that you feel immersed in the action.

Bringing our conventional idea of adventure back to end the collection gives a sense of fulfilment, whilst its brevity perhaps brings the short film genre to an extreme and reflects the collection as a whole: Adventure goes beyond just thrill-seeking, it’s also perseverance, community, teamwork, achieving dreams, personal development and so much more.

Congratulations to all the filmmakers involved in BANFF’s fourth collection and thank you to BANFF for using the power of the arts to entertain and inspire us during this pandemic.