Clouds at the Banff Film Festival

This is a photograph from "Salt" by Murray Fredericks via the Banff Mountain Film Festival.
   What a fabulous weekend in Olympia thanks to the Banff Mountain Film Festival on Saturday and Sunday nights at the historic Capitol Theater. This festival has become a December tradition in our household and, judging from the sold-out crowd at the theater, it has become a favorite event for outdoor adventure lovers.
   The fifteen films I watched this weekend were some of the award winners selected by an international jury screening some 250 films submitted for the festival this year. These are not films about a scenic hike in the woods or a breathtaking downhill ski run in Switzerland. These films are about extreme sports, ones you are not likely to do or approve of your children doing (if you find out), the ones you are very happy to watch from the comfort of a cozy theater. For the most part, the films start very in-shape 20-to 30-year olds (almost all men this year) who just don't enough adrenaline playing by the book.
   So, we watch cavers descend into wilderness caves and squeeze through tiny passages to explore the fantastic underground word. We watch a "speed alpinist" climbing/running up the face of Eiger in record-breaking time. We watch white-water kayaks drop down hundred-foot-plus falls and through sets of churning rapids. We travel to the pristine rivers of remote Kamchatka Peninsula to enjoy the camaraderie of a bunch of guys fly fishing for 30-pound rainbow trout. We gasp at climbers without helmets or belays racing up the face of Half Dome in Yosemite. And we watch mountain bikers (some about 7 years old) zipping through magnificent forests at breakneck speed. And, if you're me, you're really watching the clouds.
   Don't laugh. It was fascinating to see how important clouds are to filmmakers. Only rarely did a film not include scenes with gorgeous clouds or with time-lapse sequences of clouds moving across the landscape. In a few films, the clouds had a serious impact on the adventures of the outdoorsman. One of the most memorable was a film called "Fly or Die," which shows what happens when you combine free solo climbing with base jumping. The athlete starring in this gripping pic realizes that his fear of falling is preventing him from solo climbing (no ropes) some of the more challenging rock faces on the planet. So, he straps a parachute on his back and heads for the hills. Now, as we watch him hang onto a thousand-foot cliff with a chalked knuckle or two, we feel like he does--at peace. When he loses his grip, he "simply" turns away from the rock face, spreads his arms and legs and free falls toward the earth. Only he calls it flying, not free falling. At just the right moment, he releases his parachute, thereby, turning dying into flying. Except when an eerie storm of thick stratus clouds moves in and reduces visibility to nothing. Then, the "free baser" as he his called, has to end his hike and descend the mountain like an unevolved earthling--on foot.

   By far my favorite film of the series was one called "Salt," which won the award for Creative Excellence this year. This beautiful, slow, personal, and contemplative film takes place on a salt-flat lake in a remote part of southern Australia. The setting is the proverbial "in the middle of the nowhere." The landscape is bleak, empty, and desolate--my kind of place. The star of the film and filmmaker is internationally acclaimed photographer Murray Fredericks who spends several weeks at time camped alone in the middle of the dry lake filming and photographing the cracked salt-encrusted mud, the sunrise, the sunset, the whirling stars, the emptiness, and, of course, the clouds. To see a clip of "Salt" (with diaphanous night clouds on a starry starry sky) click here and then select "see trailer." If you want to see his photo gallery, click here.
  Most Banff films are not released independently on DVD, which is a shame because there are the kinds of films you want to watch over and over. However, Fredericks film "Salt" is available in a variety of formats, so order here. You can get one by Christmas--or better yet, Epiphany.  
     If you want to take fabulous photographs like Murray Fredericks, go outside--way outside.

  Before the films played each night, we got to see the award-winning photographs from the Banff Mountain Photography Competition. Guess what? The Grand Prize Winner was called "Storm Clouds over Mount Aspiring." The Best Mountain Adventure photo--clouds. The Best Mountain Environment photo--clouds. The Best Mountain Landscape photo--clouds.