A Weekend with Mountain Equipment Co-op at the Banff Film Festival
This year was the first year that I got to attend the yearly Banff Mountain Film and Book Festival and it was a long weekend of discovery and amazement as I worked with Mountain Equipment co-op to cover the event.
Being from Calgary, I always feel a little “out of the loop” when it comes to the mountain community, I settle for being a dedicated ‘city kid’, who loves to be amongst the hordes of local skiers, boarders, climbers and hikers who call the Canadian Rockies home. Sometimes I even feel like a tourist as I watch a family of four snowshoe up the Chester Lake trail, with their matching ski suits and rosy cheeks, wondering how on earth those parents were able to tear their children away from TV & iPhones and out into the snow.
What I didn’t realize, much to my shame, was how internationally famous this Film and Book Festival was, and how proud the Banff Community is of this event. There were films from artists and surfers in Iceland, hikers from Utah, films from climbers in Yosemite, books from climbers from England, Paragliders and environmentalists from Alaska, National Geographic explorers from Switzerland and many more that I didn’t get a chance to see. The show tours all over the globe, featuring the best films from the festival, creating a world wide interest in what the great outdoors has to offer.
With MEC asking me to be there to represent their IG account, they kindly outfitted me with their new toque and hat which can both be found here. The parka in particular was like wearing an sleeping bag with a zip up the front. It is insulated heavily at the core with a tall collar that protects from the gusts of snow we often experience in the mountains. Most importantly, there is an insulated pocket for your phone as well, which comes in handy for me during our freezing conditions when technology doesn’t cope that well.
Additionally, they provided me with a kit for the weekend which included event sponsors such as CLIF, Kicking Horse Coffee, Mountain House, Yeti, and Fjällräven along with National Geographic magazines and a Mountain Life Annual.
Below is a list of my favourite events, films and talks from the weekend. Hope you enjoy!
The first talk I attended was on Thursday with Paul Pritchard.
Paul is an english climber who experienced a traumatic brain injury during a climb up the Totem Pole in Tasmania. As he ascended the towering, precarious rock… his rope dislodged a TV sized rock from above him and it landed on his head. At that time, helmets weren’t the norm for climbers and he was severely injured. Due to the brave and quick actions of his then-girlfriend, Celia, he was rescued and taken to hospital. I was struck by his lightheartedness as he explained to the audience that he often struggles to find the words due to his injury, and would need the presenting host to assist during the interview. The recovery process had been difficult, as is the case with nearly all brain injuries, and he detailed his journey from childhood through to his adult life and the bits and pieces along the way that perhaps led him to pursue climbing. He didn’t romanticize much, he was very plain in his explanations and offered no excuses or regrets for his current lot in life. He had the audience laughing constantly, and he expressed his new found enjoyment in taking the disabled community on outdoor excursions and giving presentations in schools.
At the end of his talk, the atmosphere was light and everyone was smiling. He closed of his talk with a simple phrase. “While I have made my peace with death and no longer fear it, life is indeed, very precious and we should never forget that”. He received a standing ovation.
The second talk I attended was with another individual who was somewhat unknown to me, Sarah Marquis.
I had seen her book in Chapters, but hadn’t picked it up to read the back. She is the 2014 National Geographic Adventurer of the year, and with good reason. National Geographic doesn’t toss around that title willy nilly… you have to earn it, and Sarah had an exceptional story to share about her time in (as she calls it) ‘the wild corner’ of Australia.
Immediately I was struck by her confidence on stage, her Swiss accent and enthusiasm captured the audiences attention almost immediately. She had a sassy wit about her and really reached out to the audience, making them laugh, gasp and sigh in relief as she detailed some of her experiences and how she survived some of the harshest conditions. She spoke about growing up in Switzerland, in a town in the middle of nowhere, and her curiosity as a child. She detailed her first trip where she “actually got in touch with the wild”, spending a month in Kahurangi National Park without bringing any food. She canoed through Algonquin Provincial Park, camped in Patagonia and hiked the Pacific Crest Trail. She walked across the United States in 4 months and spent 2002-2003 walking across Australia, covering 14,000 km.
In 2010, Marquis began a three-year-long solo walk from Siberia through Asia and, traveling by boat from Thailand, and then across Australia. During this time, she maintained limited human contact and pulled 54 kg cart that containing equipment and supplies, it was simply astounding. Her book, Wild by Nature, was based on her time spent in the wild, uninhabitated corner of Australia. Her understanding of plants was essential to her survival and she spent a lot of time with the aboriginals, or “bush women” in order to understand how they hunt and live day to day. She spoke of sleeping next to crocodiles. She spoke about why she bathed with eucalyptus, and how its presence in the water also brings fish to the surface due to the oxygen element… making it easier to catch food. It was a remarkable talk, and had everyone on the edge of their seats. I was left with a really profound sense of wonder when she talked about how how that kind of solitude strips away identity quite quickly, and leaves you questioning the importance of certain things in life. She remarked about how she would anxiously check the fridge to make sure the food was still there… the hunger pains still fresh in her mind from her time in the wilderness.
It was an eye-opening presentation, and definitely one of the most inspiring speeches from the weekend in my opinion… and trust me when I say, her book is worth a read.
Snowboarder Jeremy Jones (who was sponsored by MEC to be there) gave a riveting visual presentation on the Thursday evening about Global Warming and the highlights of his snowboarding career. The crowd was full of dedicated snowboarders and supporters of his films, and it was great to see such a passionate community of people behind him. He shared experiences and images from his years as a professional snowboarder and eventually detailed how he came to start up a new company, POW.
POW (Protect Our Winters) is a dedicated crew of professional athletes and industry brands who are seeking to lead the charge towards positive climate action. They focus on educational initiatives, community-based activism and political advocacy to get their message of change across to the public. Jeremy shared with the audience how it started, the statistics behind recent climate change, and implored the audience educate themselves about the changing environment.
Saturday was a full day of films, and I was struck by these ones in particular;
• THE ACCORD – This film was probably one of my favourites from Iceland. It detailed the frustrations of the small surfer community in Iceland and how difficult it is to find the perfect conditions. The filmmaker drew a humorous comparison between the North Atlantic Wind and the town drunk, volatile and unpredictable. The soundtrack was awesome, the visuals were awesome, the passion and commitment of that community was awesome… it was, all around, just so awesome.
• NORTH OF KNOWN – This film was the world premiere, full length feature film on Gavin McClurg and Dave Turners aim to paraglide across the Alaska range. I loved this one because it was so utterly insane, but yet so utterly incredible. Since heights are something that always make me nervous, the sheer enormity of the Alaska wilderness paired with the somewhat insignificant dots of humans beings, floating in between the enormous peaks sent shivers down my spine. It’s films like these that make you realize how physically taxing it is to live in such harsh conditions. It is the kind of film that makes you feel small, and somewhat frightened of the fragile human condition in such an unforgiving environment.
It’s astounding, and worth watching.
• THE SUPER SALMON – After such a nail-biter, The Super Salmon had EVERYONE laughing. The film was light and witty while covering a very sensitive topic, the proposed $5.2- billion hydroelectric mega-dam on the Susitna River. The film follows one salmon (with a chip locator inside him) on his journey up the Susitna river. Honestly, this film was fantastic, funny, and incredibly heart felt.
• SPACIOUS: BEING HEAR – This short film follows World renowned sound recordist Gordon Hempton as he heads out into nature to find the few remaining quiet place on the planet. I loved this film because it created a stillness and curiosity in the audience as they focused on each environment, from the distant echo of a woodpecker in the forest to the amplified sound of a water droplet. The filmmakers did a great job pairing Gordons recordings with beautiful, wilderness visuals.
Thank you so much for reading!
Comment below to let me know what you think…
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