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Published on March 13th, 2013 | by Louis

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Banff Mountain Film Festival NYC review: Pure adrenaline, pure inspiration

The Banff Mountain Film Festival Tour wrapped up its reels in NYC last week, having bestowed upon the concrete jungle of Manhattan glimpses of the adventure and excitement that often feels so far removed from city life. We published a preview with a short film that provides some background. Packing the Symphony Space theatre in the Upper West Side for four consecutive nights with two different schedules of short films, the Festival showered audiences with visually stunning and emotionally moving pieces ranging from mountain biking to rock climbing to Antarctic explorations to simple mountain living – as well as literally showering the audiences with freebies from sponsors (yay!).

Highlights of the event included the story of Cas and Jonesy, a pair of slightly senseless Australians who figured that it might be fun to trek unaided from the coast of Antarctica to the South Pole and back (Crossing the Ice). Dragging everything they would need and use on a sled behind them, their 90 day journey offered fascinating insights into human nature, faith and brotherhood. The light-hearted narrative belies the importance and significance of their achievement, but it is the competition with serial explorer Aleksander Gamme and its stirring finale that earned this piece the title of ‘crowd favorite’ on the night.

Regular climbers will already be familiar with the name Alex Honnold, but BMFF audiences were awestruck by the story of a 26-year-old goofy boy who climbs big walls without ropes (Honnold 3.0). The opening challenge of bouldering a massive V10 had everyone clutching their armrests with white knuckles, sweaty palms and tense breathlessness, but the crux of the film – Honnold taking on the Yosemite Triple, on his own, 95% free solo, left jaws on the floor and minds reeling. Oh, did I mention he did all three in under 24 hours?

Countering the extremities of these two films were the features for Schedule B – a story of a paraglider bringing flight to a young man in Malawi (Ndizotheka – It Is Possible), a Swiss ski team bringing the ski industry to Afghanistan (1st Afghan Ski Challenge), Petzl’s quest to develop climbing in rural China (Petzl RocTrip China) and an exploration of unknown and unexplored ‘canyonettes’ in the Grand Canyon (Last of the Great Unknown). While these lacked the pure adrenaline of Schedule A features, they shone light on the humanity of adventure sports and brought a level of reach that touched audiences and helped us relate to the people we were watching on screen. Most of us won’t cross the Antarctic or scale big walls unaided, but if a young African man can paraglide off Mt Mulanje (yes, it IS possible), or Chinese students learn to climb with the best while developing the sport in their country, why can’t we?

We do a terrible injustice to the other films that were on show that haven’t been mentioned, and I’m sure that Chestnut Mountain Productions (who produced several of the North-East’s venues, including NYC) and the BMFF tour directors have many regrets on which films were cut from the schedule, but nevertheless, the Banff Mountain Film Festival is a glorious ode to outdoor adventure and will only inspire you to get out of the city. If you’re a fan of the outdoors, or even just fresh air, you owe yourself a visit when the Tour comes around next year. In the meantime, get out there!

For more information, film snippets and future tour locations, visit the BMFF site.

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