2011 Banff Mountain Film Festival World Tour

Last night, during the Oscar’s, three generations of Livingston’s saw the New London, Connecticut showing of the Banff Mountain Festival World Tour. It was so much better than watching television. It was fantastic. Deb and I were joined by our son and my father. We saw five films over the course of 2.5 hours: Into Darkness, A Life Ascending, Life Cycles, Eastern Rises, and The Swiss Machine.

I was thrilled with the night’s selections. It would have been nice to see a few more short films (we have seen up to nine total in the past), but the five choices were awesome. We thought that our boy would nod off thanks to jet lag and a showtime that was well past his bed time, but at 11:00 P.M., he was still going strong. That gives me hope that someday, I will spent countless days in the mountains with him.

Into Darkness, about spelunking, forced me to hold my breath at times. I have no interest in caving, but loved the story about these true adventurers. The cinematography was fabulous, considering that they shot this in total darkness and relied on artificial light to bring the depths of these caverns to life.

A Life Ascending, was one of the best films I have ever seen. It was an incredibly poignant story about Ruedi Beglinger and his family, who run the Selkirk Mountain Experience in western Canada. I love family businesses, and this was the ultimate family business in the ultimate location. Debbie’s only comment was that with all of that snow, you can’t run outside. I guess you would have to learn to ski really well, like Beglinger. The story about this Swiss trained guide and his family will move you to tears. The family business suffers a tragedy when six clients and a fellow guide perish on a trip with Beglinger. Ruedi and another guide survive the avalanche that kills the others. He is fraught with sadness in the months following the accident.  The film artfully weaves in quotes from Ben Gadd’s novel, Raven’s End. Ultimately, the family forges ahead, which is all you can do.

Life Cycles about western Canadian freestyle mountain bikers living in a farming community is terrific. After opening scenes of gorgeously lush wilderness transition to an industrial town with smoke billowing from the stacks at a massive factory, the filmmakers turn their lenses to the production of bicycles and bicycle components. Never before have I seen shots of machining in a Banff Mountain Film Festival showing, so I was ecstatic to see stuff that I see every day at Horst Engineering. Forges pumped, rotary transfer machines indexed, milling machines milled, and heat treating furnaces baked. I loved it.

Our 4.5-year-old son couldn’t have been happier. The film abruptly left the industrialized world of the factory and returned to the farm where the riders performed their beautifully choreographed tricks with lovely shots of grain, growing in the foreground. They jumped combine harvesters, rode by tractors, leapt out of barn hay lofts, and dazzled through the trails. It was a feast for the eyes.

Eastern Rises was one of the funniest films I’ve ever seen. I am not a fisherman, but this story about a trip to eastern Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula was hilarious and interesting. I first read about the Kamchatka in the August 2009 issue of National Geographic. The place is so remote and so pristine, that I hope that it remains that way. The irreverence of the filmaker and cast shown through, but at the core, these guys love the wilderness and want to preserve it.

The final film was my favorite because of its incredible intensity. The Swiss Machine, about Ueli Steck, the incredible speed-alpinist was riveting. The film also features Alex Honnold, who dazzled in First Ascent: Alone on the Wall, shown on the 2010 World Tour, but Steck trumps Honnold with his combination of rock climbing, mixed climbing, and mountaineering. Witnessing his record-breaking speed ascent of the Eiger was magnificent and has me fired up to begin training in earnest for my own running, cycling, and triathlon season. I suggested to Debbie that she try his hill training regiment. The guy has to be a machine, as the title implies.

New Hampshire based climber and guide, Freddie Wilkinson, offers excellent commentary. I didn’t know Fred was in the film, and when he appeared, I was thrilled. Several years ago, I spent three days with Fred in the White Mountains.  He taught me basic mountaineering skills through his work at the International Mountain Climbing School in North Conway. We had great conversations about our adventures all over the world. I need a mountaineering refresher course now, and Steck has inspired me to plan for something. However, I have no intention of taking the same risks. 

There are 23 other films in rotation on the tour, but I was totally satisfied with the five we saw. We were in Denver, Colorado last week, and I saw on the big sign in front of the Paramount Theater, that the tour will be there next. I would love to go back for that, but will have to remain content that we made it back in time to see the tour on our home turf.

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