Banff Mountain Film Festival UK & Ireland Tour

I’m not an outdoorsy, extreme sports kind of a girl.

It’s been so many years since I last rode a bike that I’m pretty sure I’d need stabilisers if I tried it now. The one time I rather optimistically thought I might try my hand at climbing, I ended up completely paralyzed by fear, clinging to the wall with my eyes squeezed shut, a mere six feet off the floor. And I’d love to find a skiing holiday appealing, I really would. But I don’t. It just looks a bit cold and tiring.

All this suggests that I’m probably not the target audience for the Banff Mountain Film Festival, which is currently touring the whole, entire world (seriously, check the tour schedule). The tour brings a selection of award winning short films celebrating mountain culture to thirty-odd provincial arts centres across the UK and Ireland. I’ve never heard the term ‘mountain culture’ before and I’m not sure I could tell you what it is – even now – but I went along to Malvern Theatres on Friday night with family and friends, not quite knowing what to expect but looking forward to something different.

The films I saw in Malvern were really wonderful. They were hilarious, terrifying, moving and – sorry, but the cliché is true in this instance – life-affirming.

I watched Reel Rock: Honnold 3.0 – breath held, palms sweating, peering through my fingers – whilst the incredible and quietly cocky climber Alex Honnold tackled the Yosemite Triple: Mt. Watkins, El Capitan and Half Dome. In 24 hours. The vast majority of it without ropes. Y’know, as you do.

My heart swelled with sheer joy at the sight of a Jack Russell Terrier bombing along behind her mountain biking owner in Lily Shreds Trailside. The dog in that film is clearly having the time of her life.

The group of mountain bikers hanging around an urban park in Strength In Numbers reminded me fondly of the Mucca Mad Boys from the wonderful Angry Boys: still hanging out with their gang from school and not quite ready to grow up just yet.

And I was utterly baffled but amazed by the seriously hardcore “off-width” crack climbing subculture: full of salt-of-the-earth Americans jamming various parts of their body into cracks in rocks to climb. Reel Rock: Wide Boyz followed two Brits as they took on America’s hardest off-width. There was a lot of blood.

But Crossing The Ice – winner of the Grand Prize, Best Film on Adventure & Exploration and the People’s Choice Award – really stuck with me, partly because of the extraordinary courage and determination of cheerful Aussies Cas and Jonesy, who journeyed unassisted to the South Pole and back, but mostly because of their unwavering friendship. Without doubt, my favourite part of the whole festival was the scene on Christmas Day, in a freezing cold tent in the middle of Antarctica, when one revealed to the other that he’d been saving a bit of bacon every day as a surprise.

Above all else, the strength of character in these films is what made me love them. Some of the shorter films lacked the compelling characters but the extraordinary feats and stunning landscapes made up for that.

I honestly didn’t know what to expect from the Banff Mountain Film Festival – and I’m certainly not your average Banff festivalgoer – but I really enjoyed the evening and would urge you to get along to the tour if you get a chance. I’ve already pencilled it in to my calendar for 2014.