If you relish the opportunity to see and experience locations and sensations far from the norm, then this weekend's one-night-only presentation of the 2017 Banff Mountain Film Festival at the Lucas Theatre has your name written all over it.
Canada's Banff Mountain Film Fest has been called "the most prestigious mountain film festival in the world," and before you start to chuckle at what might sound like a dubious honor, check yourself. Because there are actually a number of established, well-known film festivals around the globe that fall under that heading.
What exactly is a "mountain film festival?" Well, generally speaking, it's a festival dedicated to honoring, presenting and promoting standout short films that celebrate the beauty, majesty and importance of the most picturesque (and oftentimes the most remote and inaccessible) places in our great outdoors - with some degree of focus placed on how humans interact with those places.
It's not uncommon for there to be elements of extreme sportsmanship on display (such as rock climbing, hang-gliding, mountain bike racing, spelunking or skiing), and there is usually some component of environmentalism being promoted as well. I mean, it's only logical - without proper care for our Earth and its natural resources, the opportunities for most extreme outdoor sports and high-risk explorative pastimes would cease to exist. Unsurprisingly, most folks who obsessively dig being out in nature can reliably be counted on to support taking care of said nature. Film festivals such as Banff help promote that mindset and encourage the next generation of hikers, mountaineers and adventurers.
Each fall, following the festival itself in Banff, Alberta, the organization mounts a world tour that finds a rotating selection of amazing short films drawn from the hundreds submitted to that year's event screened in about 450 communities across 40 countries. Savannah is one such community, and April 21's presentation at the Lucas marks the fifth year in a row our city has enjoyed this event, which is presented locally by the regional outdoor clothing and adventure gear retailer Half-Moon Outfitters (our own branch is on Broughton Street, just a few blocks from the venue), which sells kayaking, backpacking, surfing and rock climbing attire and accessories. The chain has partnered with the Banff fest to present tour stops in several Southeastern markets.
Katherine P. Smith oversees events for Half-Moon Outfitters. I spoke with her in advance of her stop in Savannah to help present this year's festival, which is essentially a stunning highlight reel of far-flung, exotic destinations and (occasionally) death-defying stunts and feats of endurance.
What led your company to partner with this tour?
Smith: It's one of our favorite events to host and to be a part of. The films are a perfect fit for us - they celebrate a life full of adventure, passion and exploration.
How long has this relationship existed between Half-Moon and the Banff Mountain Film Fest?
Smith: We've been hosting the tour for 12 years in some of our other markets, but this is only our fifth year in Savannah. We host shows in Greenville, Columbia and Charleston, S.C., as well as Athens, Ga. In 2018, we'll begin hosting it in Augusta, Ga., as well.
For you personally, what is it about Banff that sets it apart from other similar touring film festivals?
Smith: I visit each of our screenings of the tour. I can honestly say that I sit in the theater in every town and watch all of the films. Some of them, I've seen several times. They are just that good. They always inspire me to get out of my comfort zone and live a little. They're not all extreme mountain sports films; plenty are just feel-good stories about people doing good things, and that is such an inspiration to me. The films have something for everyone.
On average, how many people does this event draw in Savannah? How many people do you expect to attend this year?
Smith: Last year we had over 600 attendees. I always hope to get more each year. Once people come, they come again the next year and bring their friends. People enjoy it and become lifelong devotees.
Each tour stop features shorts from the most recent Banff Mountain Film Fest. What dictates exactly which films the viewers here in Savannah will get to see?
Smith: I usually help pick out the films with someone from the Banff Centre. We pick based on audience feedback from previous tour stops, as well as crowd favorites.
Are there any shorts in this year's event that are personal highlights for you? Why do they resonate with you?
Smith: A few of my favorite films from the Savannah lineup include "4 Mums in a Boat," which is about four middle-aged soccer moms from Great Britain, who are novice rowers but decide to try to become the oldest women to row across the Atlantic Ocean. I am in awe of their bravery and tenacity.
Another film that I love from the Savannah show is "Young Guns," about two teenage rock climbers, from very different backgrounds, who are changing the sport of rock climbing as we know it. And they are incredible.
"Metronomic" will also be shown at your stop and it is a comical but true film of a group of slackliners (that's basically a fancy modern term for tightrope walkers), who slackline while performing as a rock 'n' roll band. It's crazy.
What would you say to someone who has never been to any sort of short film festival - let alone one that revolves around outdoor adventure and exploration - to convince them to give this particular event a try?
Smith: I can say, without any hesitation, that this festival is for everyone. 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.
IF YOU GO
What: 2017 Banff Mountain Film Festival World Tour
When: 7 p.m. April 21
Where: Lucas Theatre, 32 Abercorn St.
Info: banffcentre.ca, lucastheatre.com