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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.

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Alex Crevar

1903

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.

1946

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.

1952

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.

1953

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

1975

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.

1998

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.

2008

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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