A Brief History of Mountain Film

In November, the Banff Mountain Film Festival returns for its 33rd edition, with some 500 screenings in 30 countries. Here's a look at how high-altitude cinema arose from low-rent beginnings.

Alex Crevar

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F. Ormiston-Smith captures one of the first high-altitude climbing shots for The Ascent of Mount Blanc. Another likely first for filmmakers: altitude sickness.


Warren Miller buys an 8mm camera with his Navy discharge pay, lives out of a trailer in Sun Valley’s parking lot, and films his friends in order to help improve their skiing.


Italy’s Trento Film Festival brings 39 movies and 1,800 people together for the first Festival of Mountain Cinema. A French film takes home top honors.


The Conquest of Everest, chronicling Hillary and Norgay’s climb, nets an Academy Award nomination. The Oscar goes to a Disney documentary.


After a Japanese skier tumbles down the South Col and survives, the optimistically titled The Man Who Skied Down Everest wins the genre’s first Oscar.


Everest, filmed during the 1996 climbing season—in which eight people died on the mountain—grosses $128 million worldwide, a record for an Imax film.


The Banff Mountain Film Festival (Nov­ember 1–9), North America’s oldest, will show some 300 entries. The inaugural, in 1976, had just ten.

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