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Stream These 5 Highlights from the Banff Film Festival

This year the famous outdoor film festival is going virtual, with thrilling tales of climbing adventures and profiles of charismatic conservationists

This year, Banff will carry out a virtual world tour starting November 26, offering 17 films that you’ll have to cringe, gasp, or cheer your way through with a lot fewer companions. (Photo: Alex Mundt)
This year, Banff will carry out a virtual world tour starting November 26, offering 17 films that you’ll have to cringe, gasp, or cheer your way through with a lot fewer companions.

Every year following its banner event, the Banff Centre Mountain Film Festival sends select movies out for in-person screenings in various cities as a world tour. It’s a great way for outdoor enthusiasts to gather for what’s often a raucous experience, cringing or gasping or cheering their way through daring feats in the mountains or stories of fascinating characters. This year, Banff is carrying out a virtual world tour starting November 26, offering 17 films that you’ll have to cringe, gasp, or cheer your way through with a lot fewer companions. The films are split into two programs, with a different mix of features and shorts in each, that can be purchased through Banff’s website—$15 for one program or $28 for both. You can also support local hosts, like nonprofits and college outdoor programs, by purchasing tickets through them; some are also offering remote “live” events with additional programming. And with quirky, thrilling films such as these five highlights, there’s still plenty of fun to be had until the next time we can all get together.  

‘Climbing Blind’

The Old Man of Hoy is a 450-foot rectangular sea stack off the coast of Scotland, an iconic structure that, to the inexperienced eye, looks like it would be extremely weird to climb. The star of the feature-length Climbing Blind, Jesse Dufton, leads the trad route—but with the additional challenge of not being able to see it, as he was born with a degenerative eye disease that’s left him basically only able to perceive light. The film gets into the specific skills and logistics that contribute to Dufton’s accomplished trad-climbing career and shows how he tackles the goal of being the first blind person to lead the Old Man of Hoy (5.10a/b). Like any other climbing film, the joy of watching this one is in breaking down the nitty-gritty of exactly how an athlete works, while still feeling like you’re watching some sort of magic happen as soon as they’re on the rocks.  

‘Where I Belong’

Many viewers will want to go fishing with Chris Hill after watching Where I Belong—less for the fishing than to hang out with the short film’s charming lead, who’s as passionate about conservation as she is about the sport. The nine-minute piece touches on Hill’s career as an environmental lobbyist, her love for angling, her thoughts on being a Black woman in fishing, and her sometimes-competitive moments on the river with her boyfriend (who she tends to outfish, let it be said). Her story offers plenty of food for thought about finding meaning in what you do, whether that’s by discovering a sense of belonging or saving the places you love. For angling tips, though, you’re on your own: Hill is clearly such a natural that her lengthiest explanation of her fishing technique is saying to herself, “Would a fish be right there? I think a fish would be right there.”

‘Running the Roof’

A good old-fashioned type-two-fun romp is just the ticket to shake up a monotonous week. Even better if it’s someone else’s type-two-fun romp! Running the Roof brings us along for 51 minutes of dust and tears as three friends run the equivalent of ten marathons in Tajikistan’s Pamir mountains, a remote area often called “the roof of the world.” There is no why, just a plan to run from the border of Afghanistan to the border of China after a drunken bet. As with any good sufferfest, it comes to feel like a meaningful endeavor but stands on its own as an entertaining journey that you might be glad not to be a part of. Once you get past the filmmakers’ repeated, astonished assertions that hardly anyone even realizes this place exists (Tajikistan! It’s a whole country!), just sit back and enjoy the incredible desert views.

‘Voice Above Water’

This peaceful short film focuses on Wayan, a 90-year-old fisherman in Bali, Indonesia, who can no longer fish. Not because he’s too old—the film seizes every opportunity to show Wayan diving into the ocean, paddling his boat, and otherwise being extremely spry. Instead, he can’t fish because there’s too much plastic trash in the ocean, so he resolves to take his boat out and clean up the detritus. His single-minded dedication to the task has already amassed a huge pit of such garbage. Wayan’s charisma is enough to power a full-length film, and his determined work as an environmentalist delivers an impactful message about personal action in the face of overwhelming problems. 

‘Free as Can Be’ 

Climbing may be one of the most thoroughly and colorfully documented adventure sports, and the 30-minute Free as Can Be feels like a perfect encapsulation of the sport’s constant dialogue between present and past. The film brings together Jordan Cannon, a 25-year-old who loves climbing history, and Mark Hudon, a 64-year-old Yosemite free-climbing veteran. As the two men like to point out, they could not be more different. Cannon is only a few years into his climbing obsession, while Hudon’s career reaches back to the 1970s. But their goals align when it comes to free-climbing El Capitan’s Freerider (5.13a): Cannon wants to do it in a day, and Hudon wants to be the oldest person to do it. The climbing partners are delightful together, adding endearing intergenerational banter (and quite a bit of singing) to the well-populated genre of Yosemite climbing films.

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Filed To: ClimbingFilmFishingYosemiteEl Capitan
Lead Photo: Alex Mundt