The Banff Mountain Film Festival is renowned for its adrenaline-pumping action, jaw-dropping visuals and daredevil subjects, but you don’t have to be a skier, a hiker or even an outdoorsy kind of person to appreciate it.
In fact, some of the film’s subjects aren’t outdoorsy people at all. Elizabeth Hawley, for instance, the subject of Keeper of the Mountains, is a self-described city person. She’s 90 years old and never hiked a mountain in her life. She does, however, know every American who hiked Mount Everest since 1963.
The in-depth profile of Hawley is one of nine films that will show at the Portsmouth stop of the Banff Mountain Film Festival World Tour, now in its 19th visit to the Seacoast. The festival stops in about 400 communities in 40 countries across the globe.
The films were chosen among many based on what Goodwin Community Health Community Relations Director Lara Willard felt would best grip and inspire the festival-goers. It’s the biggest fundraiser of the year for Goodwin Community Health, which works to provide affordable, comprehensive health care to the Greater Strafford County.
Tickets nearly always sell out come showtime.
“They’re [the films] fantastic. They’re visually stunning, but more in a National Geographic way than an X-Games way. It’s a way to explore mountain culture around the world,” Willard said. “The films bring you to some of the most remote places you’ve ever seen, but we try to put things in here for everyone: paddling, hiking, snow sports. … We try to pick films that you’ve never seen before.”
The other films are The Burn, a six-minute short with skiers racing down a newly charred forest; 35, a story of one man’s challenge to climb 35 routes on his 35th birthday; North of the Sun, a film about two Norwegian adventurers who spend the winter surfing and skiing on a remote Arctic island; Split of a Second, a film about wingsuit pilots preparing for a brief moment of flight; Spice Girl, a documentary about the first woman to climb the British grade of E9; Cascada, a film about waterfalls and kayakers; Sea of Rock, about two expert riders who follow threads of early cyclists down the gnarly slopes of Sea of Rock in the Austrian Alps; and, for the grand finale, Valhalla, a short in which a handful of skiers and snowboarders bare it all in a naked ski-run.
All of the films clearly have outdoorsy, daredevil elements, but lots of the films, like Allison Otto’s 25-minute Keeper of the Mountain, are about more than just fantastic scenery and jaw-dropping stunts.
“It’s more of a portrait of a very compelling individual,” Otto said of her film. Elizabeth Hawley, or “Miss Hawley,” has been the best-known chronicler of Himalayan expeditions for more than four decades. Otto trekked to Kathmandu twice to film and interview Hawley, once during the summer of 2011 and again the next summer.
“I became fascinated by the idea of this woman who really lives life on her own terms and carved a niche for herself in this foreign country in a sport she knew nothing about. She’s never climbed a mountain herself, and she has no desire to. … She’s become the world’s foremost authority on Himalayan mountaineering,” Otto said.
The film (you can watch a preview of all of the films at banffcentre.ca/mountainfestival/worldtour/films) traces Hawley’s journey, starting with her childhood and moving through her first jobs, her exquisite travels and her 50 years covering mountaineering in Kathmandu.
Keeper of the Mountains is one of the longer films of the festival; between these documentaries are very short ones like Jeff Thomas’s The Burn. In six minutes, it tells of the British Columbian mountains that fall victim to summer forest fires. It’s action-packed with steep ski runs through a forest of trees that are glowing with embers. (The visuals are so good, in fact, that most viewers think they’re real. The glowing embers are actually the result of special effects.)
“These things happen all the time, every year,” Thomas said. One aim of the film, Thomas said, was to communicate that forest fires — or at least forest fires not caused by humans — are natural phenomena. The idea hit him in 2009, when he was skiing on one of these charred mountains.
“When you’re skiing through mountains that were the result of forest fires, it always feels like they’re still alive,” Thomas said.
The result is captivating, Willard said.
“These filmmakers are really trailblazers. They’re going to places in the world that people don’t normally go to,” Willard said.
As seen in the February 6, 2014 issue of the Hippo.