Banff Film Festival

Shown at the Norwich Playhouse Theatre

Kearton Rees – March 2011

Every year in the Rocky Mountain town of Banff, Alberta, Canada, a festival is
held to celebrate new films on outdoor topics and to pick the best in a variety
of categories. After the festival finishes, teams go on tour around the world
showing subsets of that year’s best films in a variety of locations including
this year, for the first time, Norwich.

Last Saturday, despite the best efforts of National Rail and National Express, a
small contingent from the IMC plus some friends from the Outdoor Group met at
the very pleasant Playhouse Theatre on the riverside to see this year’s

The showing started with “The Swiss Machine”, about Swiss mountaineer Ueli Steck
who specialises in rapid solo ascents. It followed him in the Alps and then on
several climbs in Yosemite including the famous El Capitan. The American who
partnered him on the latter found it hard to believe the pace at which he
climbed. He likened him to a Swiss watch that just keeps going at a steady pace
without ever stopping.

Back in Europe, the first solo attempt at the Eiger was made by Reinhold Messner
in 10 hours. Then he heard that another climber had set a record for a solo
climb of the North Face of the Eiger of about 4 hours. Of course he had to have
a go and managed to complete it in about 3 hours 50 mins. As if to diminish this
achievement he immediately said that the thought that wasn’t the limit! After
undertaking a long and intensive, personally designed fitness and preparation
programme he set off again. Ueli is a soloist so, as a matter of principle, he
avoided any of the fixed ropes on the mountain. The most critical being the
ropes across the Hinterstoisser Traverse, where a large group of experienced
Austrians died in one of the initial attempts that found what has now become the
most commonly used ascent route. After ascending like lightning above drops of
2-3000 metres he reached the ridge and then literally ran along it to the peak
where he took a quick swig of water. At that point I half expected him to pull
out a parachute and take the quickest route down! His ascent time – two hours
and forty seven minutes!

The then followed the winner of the Short Film Award, “The Longest Way”. This
illustrated the journey of a German adventurer on a walk from Beijing back to
Germany. It took the form of a rapid series of photos and short video clips
showing his face and whoever he happened to meet at different points on his
journey and, in one corner, the mileage from the start. The main effect was to
show how his facial hair had increased as he progressed. The other interesting
point was the little bicycle-wheeled trailer he had to support his walk across
the desert areas. Much easier than a rucksack.

The longest, and in my opinion the best, of the films was “Crossing the Ditch”.
The story of two young Australians who decided, to paddle a canoe across the
Tasman Sea to New Zealand.

The first half of the film covered their preparations. Having no canoeing
experience they consulted a variety of experts in preparation. They had a canoe
designed by a British chap who had designed one that had crossed the Atlantic.
It was made of a synthetic material that only showed minor dents when hit by a
lump hammer! The film covered both their and their families’ feelings on the
topic. This was especially poignant when an experienced canoeist, whom they had
contacted earlier for advice, set out before them on the same journey, solo, in
a modified standard canoe and disappeared from his canoe when nearing New

The second half of the film covered the canoe journey itself, from excellent
progress on smooth seas in the first two weeks to getting stuck in a circular
current system for eleven days, storms, sharks and a freak encounter with yacht
when half way across and their reception in New Zealand. This film focussed more
on the emotional and motivational side of the adventure than many of the others.
Covering their loss of confidence when on half rations due to the delay caused
by the circular current and from the sea sickness that one suffered from but
thought he had found a way to overcome, returned unexpectedly, to worries when
their parachute anchor cable wrapped itself around their rudder at night in a

“Azadi Freedom” covered the state of skiing in Kashmir province from the point of
view of someone who wanted to become its first ski guide, even during the wars.
It brings out the part that skiing is playing in rebuilding the tourism industry

“Dream Result”, the second canoeing film shown, covered the exploits of a set of
top athletes and their friends white-water kayaking and their attempts to set
the world record waterfall drop on rivers in Norway, US and Argentina. After
seeing both of these films, I didn’t feel so bad about missing Andy’s canoeing
session in Hadleigh to attend the show.

Finally there were two shorter films:- “Life cycles” involved mountain biking and
trick cycling with an impressive fast ride along a steep forest track with
partially blind jumps, followed by trick cycling and jumping on a farm in the
grain belt of the US. In contrast “Parking Garage” looked a the lighter side of
mountaineering with a formidable multi-day ascent of the highest multi-story car
park in town in the style of the Monty Python team’s ascent of Uxbridge High
Road, but with a bit more height.

Lastly, because the show had run on longer than we and they had expected, we were
left with only 15 mins to run across the town, dodging many nightclub queues, to
get to the station for the last train home. Well that’s my exercise for the
week. If you get a chance to see the Banff Film Festival, do so.

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