Banff 2014: Turning the Corner

It’s been plain for a while now that the Banff Film festival is in a perilous position. The relative accessibility of video equipment has made outdoor films more common than ever before, thus in theory increasing both the breadth and depth of the pool from which an official fest like Banff has to draw. At the same time, the echo chamber of the internet has encouraged adventure films which do not have outdoor adventure as their subject, rather they are videos about the other videos that came before. They’re like the barn in Delillo’s White Noise, with hucking and a soundstrack. As things such as slomo, time lapse, POV, and saturation-to-11 have become the norm, the technical edge of both the video production and the action which it captures have at once become ever better and ever less relevant. When you see anything too many times, done over and over and always scrubbed so thoroughly, it becomes too perfect and shortly thereafter drifts into the realm of abstraction. Outdoor films should be deeply relevant because they are deeply personal, tied to experiences we’ve each had. The profusion of online adventure videos has instead done the opposite.

After a seeming period of stagnation, both in film fests and outdoor films generally, Banff appears to be fighting back. Using a night of the world tour, where only a selection of Banff festival films are shown, is inherently problematic in terms of making useful generalizations, but is I think not entirely misleading.

Many Banff filmakers are repeat offenders, making the development of the genre as a whole easier to trace. Sherpas Cinema is a good example. Several years ago we saw Chimaera, an admittedly abstract short ski film which was so concerned with it’s own details it ended up being about nothing, at all. This year we had a chapter from the Sculpted in Time film, which put the technical proficiency, patience, and eye for detail which featured in Chimaera to good use, resulting in a spare, rich, sensitive short. It is the best ski film I recall. If Valhalla had taken skiing so seriously it could have made for an astouding film.

Cedar Wright has also become a Banff regular, and though his Sufferfest 2: Desert Alpine is both a remake of Sufferfest 1 and a lamer version of tours Doom already did, it’s still a damn good movie. For simple reasons; it avoids goofy camera tricks because the action is already good enough, and lets the personalities of Wright and Alex Honnold, who are more than entertaining enough, shine through. It’s profound because it isn’t trying to be, a lesson all outdoor filmakers would do well to repeat early and often.

If this is what Banff is becoming, I look forward to next year’s world tour.

3 responses to “Banff 2014: Turning the Corner”

  1. Big air and rock aren’t relevant to most of the outdoor world. Most of the adventure and beauty that people experience, or attempt to achieve, is ignored. For instance, the Midwest. Hardwood forests. Most of the NE. I live in downstate Michigan. Our world is ignored. Pre-Net and now. …It’s low hanging fruit. Quite a few outdoorfolk I know make noise about this. They write letters to the editors of BC ski media…which are ignored. We are the majority. We are given mostly rock and big air. Oneathesedays… (…We’ll see another “Water Walker.”)

    1. I agree, and suspect a lot of that has to do with the extra effort it would take to nail the visuals. The midwest is beautiful, but subtle.

      1. As a native Michigander I have to disagree. The desert, mountains and the wide-open spaces offer more challenges and aesthetic backdrops than the flat, homogenous landscape covering most of the midwest. Let’s face it, the midwest is crawling with people… we’re everywhere. The wilderness is limited and most of it is flat and all looks the same. Out west and east, the climbing and skiing are better, it’s not debatable.

        Outdoor movies are about human-powered motion in the natural world, whether it be on snow or rock. The western environment is more vast and challenging. A broader canvas, for each person to paint their own individual recreational masterpiece. The film makers of this particular genre are creating these films for themselves and their like-minded friends.

        The reason, Bill Mason’s opus ‘Waterwalker’ is such a masterpiece is because it was the culmination of a lifetime of paddling and filming in the rugged Ontario wilderness on the East shore of Lake Superior. ‘Waterwalker’ is gorgeous in large part because of the rugged environment in which it was filmed and the deeply personal reflections found within. The film wouldn’t have had a sliver of the impact if it was filmed on the Grand and Au Sable Rivers.

        I am a lifelong fan of the UP and Lake Superior, but as far as options go for playing outside, they don’t hold a candle to Utah,Wyoming or a number of other western states. I know more people who have moved west for playing outside than anyone who has moved to Michigan.

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