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A Mountain of a Film Festival

Air Date: Week of

Since it began in 1976, the annual Banff Festival of Mountain Films has grown from just 10 films viewed in a day, to over 140 entries over a three day extravaganza. The best films are then sent on a continent-wide tour. The current, traveling Banff Festival features two hours of short films, celebrating the mountain environment and spirit of adventure. The Banff Festival of Mountain Films tours across the US and Canada through the month of April, and Living on Earth sent Ken Bader to catch this year's edition at its Boston area screening for this review:


CURWOOD: It began in 1976 as a one-day festival of 10 films about mountains. Now the Banff Festival of Mountain Films, still held each year in the Canadian Rockies town of the same name, receives about 140 entries for its 3-day extravaganza. Then it sends the best of the bunch on a continent-wide tour. The current traveling Banff Festival features 2 hours of short films celebrating the mountain environment and the spirit of adventure. Living on Earth sent Ken Bader to catch this year's edition of the festival at its Boston- area screening. He has this review.

(Ambient conversation)

BADER: As moviegoers entered the theater it was easy to pick out the ones who were there to see The Replacement Killers or Spice World or Blues Brothers 2000 from the ones who came for the Banff Festival of Mountain Films. The mountain film fans looked like they ate more Power Bars than popcorn, and they ranged in age from the early 20s all the way up to the late 20s. And their taste in cinema was quite specific.

MAN: The ones that interest me the most are the extreme climbing films. But even the kayaking films are fun.

BADER: That guy's taste was relatively eclectic by this crowd's standards. These moviegoers actually identified with, and in some cases hoped to emulate, the extremists they were about to see. As for me, I'm more like Chance the Gardener: I like to watch.

(Choral music)

BADER: Fortunately, there's plenty to watch in this, the twenty-second annual edition of the Banff Festival of Mountain Films. The Westminster Cathedral Choir provides an appropriately graceful soundtrack to a 17-minute film called Escape, which shows 3 friends soaring through Italy's Dolomite Mountains, carried aloft by wind-powered sails that turn them into human kites. As you might expect, the quality of the films varies, but by and large they are quite good. The best are the shortest and longest of the evening. Tour coordinator Monique Hunkeler describes the shortest, E-900, as a sure-fire crowd pleaser.

HUNKELER: It's a one-minute film and it did receive a special jury award at the festival last November. And it's an animated climbing film, and it's a totally unexpected ending, and people just holler with laughter.

(People hollering with laughter)

BADER: If E-900 is good for a laugh, the Human Race is just plain good. This 56-minute documentary opens with extraordinary shots of Australia's Kimberley Region, which the narrator describes as "a harsh and unforgiving wilderness, where featureless plains of thorny spinifex, or spiny grass, erupt into jagged desert ranges."

NARRATOR: (Backdropped by dramatic music) This is to be the ultimate testing ground for 3 men. Three cultures. Three very different attitudes to life. The challenge: to survive unaided while racing each other for hundreds of kilometers across this forbidding country. It will prove a physical ordeal, and a mental and spiritual odyssey. It will be a human race.

BADER: The 3 men live up to their billing. First, we meet 61-year-old Rudiger Nehberg, German lover of bizarre adventure and wilderness survival.

NEHBERG: It's a contradiction to have a race in a desert. Normally I would move here very cautiously, not race, because I have to save all my water beginning form sweat to urine. And doing a race in a desert, it's completely nonsense. But I like it.

BADER: Then the film introduces 72-year-old Aborigine Jack Jugarie, who tells us that his guardian ancestors give him spirit for walking.

JUGARIE: They give me spirit walking. (Other voices) When I go, probably, the spirit will be behind me.

BADER: The third competitor is 35-year-old American Dave Kolvey, an ultra- marathon runner who believes in winning.

(Water splashes; a bird calls)

KOLVEY: I know I can win. Whether or not I will win, I think that depends upon how smart I am out there with regards to pacing and finding food and such. And maybe a little bit of luck involved, too. My main thing is just to enjoy the experience and survive it.

BADER: The Human Race is the jewel of the festival. It's got what the other movies showing at the cineplex that night spent millions of dollars on and didn't come close to getting: arresting cinematography, rich characters, and a riveting narrative that culminates in a deeply moving climax. None of this made me want to hike through a desert, climb a mountain or kayak through the whitewater, mind you. Why go through the hassle, when you can see it all up there on the big screen and never break a sweat? For Living on Earth, I'm Ken Bader.

CURWOOD: The Banff Festival of Mountain Films continues its tour across the US and Canada through the month of April. It's NPR's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood.



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