Six years is a long time for just about anything. When it comes to annual public events, any type of celebration or function that can not only survive, but thrive, for more than two or three installments is — generally speaking — something fairly special. That’s an apt description of the Banff Mountain Film Festival, which has been held for the past 41 years in Alberta, Canada, at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity.
This April 20, however, marks the sixth year in a row that the international touring version of this highly regarded festival centered around the topics of environmentalism, exploration and extreme sports will make a stop in Savannah at the Lucas Theatre for the Arts.
Once more, this notable public display of some of the finest recently made nature and human endurance-based documentary filmmaking is presented by regional retail chain Half-Moon Outfitters, which is based in South Carolina, but has a Savannah branch on Broughton Street just a stone’s throw from the Lucas. This retailer specializes in clothing, gear and accessories designed for outdoor camping, exploring and sports enthusiasts, making them a logical choice of sponsor for such a prestigious showcase.
Truth be told, if you are interested in the subject matter on display that night at the Lucas, you likely already shop at Half-Moon, and vice-versa.
Tickets to this specially curated compilation of varied short subjects are on sale at the Savannah Box Office. There should be seats available at the door on the night of the show. Local interest in nature and active leisure film fests of this sort has increased exponentially for the past decade, as evidenced by the fact that the Banff festival is one of two similarly themed touring events of this type held here each year. The other is the Telluride Mountainfilm Fest. It’s not uncommon for this event to fill half of the Lucas’ 1,200 capacity. Reserving tickets in advance is highly recommended.
Here’s what you can expect from this eagerly anticipated and rather unpredictable night out at the cinema.
The festival itself functions as an international competition that awards prizes for the best examples of short films and feature-length docs dealing (primarily) with “mountain culture.” That means exactly what it sounds like. Namely, looking at and/or climbing mountains. Now, of course there are plenty of other subjects and perspectives to be found in competition at this major event, such as sports, the environment and the indomitable spirit of mankind.
But really, at the heart of it all, is the mountains.
It’s a chance for those of us who do not have the time, money, strength, agility, opportunity or courage to scale a mountain to be able to come as close as humanly possible to experiencing such jaw-dropping thrills and spiritual elevation through the eyes of the athletes, explorers and filmmakers who do. Each year, upwards of 300 films are submitted to the selection committee, and from that initial batch, about 60 of the best submissions are chosen to be screened in Alberta for judges, critics and the public.
After awards for a variety of outstanding achievements are meted out, a rotating group of around 25 of the top films are sent around the world to schools, cinemas, community centers and venues such as ours. The entire tour takes several months, and by the time it’s done, almost a quarter of a million people in over 300 cities across 20 different countries will have viewed these outstanding motion pictures.
Additionally, it’s worth noting that not all cities wind up seeing the same films. The local or regional hosts of each screening are allowed input into which films from the traveling roster they feel would have the most resonance with their own communities. That input is taken into consideration when organizers put together each destination’s approximately two-hour compilation. There’s no way for audiences here in Savannah to accurately predict just what will appear on the screen at the Lucas that night. This is part of the charm and excitement surrounding this event.
And yet, despite the element of mystery that is part and parcel of attending the Banff Mountain Film Fest, it’s a safe bet that films dealing with climbing, biking, kayaking, adventure, skiing, culture and the environment will all be represented in one form or another. And, speaking of forms, everything from high-intensity short subjects to longer and more nuanced films will be on display — as well as both professionally made and totally amateur productions.
Think of it as a highlight reel featuring intimate, thrilling glimpses of far-flung, exotic, high-altitude locales and death-defying (or at the very least, injury-defying) stunts and feats of endurance.
Still not sold? Don’t fancy yourself the right fit for this screening? Well, as Katharine P. Smith, who has overseen Half-Moon Outfitter’s longstanding partnership with this touring event told me last year, this festival “is for everyone.”
“I can say that without hesitation,” she added. “You do not have to be an extreme sports enthusiast of any type. The films are so inspiring and entertaining that even the least ‘outdoorsy types’ walk away with a feeling of experiencing adventure in the everyday.”
And really, given the depressing and anxiety-inducing state of world affairs at the present, who among us couldn’t use a little more natural, environmental beauty and inspiration in their lives?
That’s what I thought.