The main auditorium of the Hamilton Movie Theater was almost full on the evening of Wednesday February 16 for the annual Banff Center Mountain Film Festival, hosted by Colgate University’s Outdoor Education Program and featuring seven short films outdoor and environmental critically acclaimed.
The film festival is a celebration of mountain culture that promotes understanding and appreciation of the world’s outdoor spaces by giving people the opportunity to share their experiences and inspire others through film. Film programs tour across Canada, the United States and more than 40 other countries, focusing on mountain photography, literature and film, and the festival prides itself on providing a forum for people to express their passions through different mediums. The films vary in length and cover a wide range of topics and viewpoints.
Heidi Riley, associate director of outdoor education at Colgate, helped organize the event and brought the film festival to Hamilton. She explained that Colgate Outdoor Education has been a stop on the Banff Mountain Film Festival World Tour for many years, holding the event every year in mid-February.
“Banff is important for students because it shows a wide variety of ways people connect to the land and how they experience their own identity there,” Riley said. “Whether the films are primarily for fun or lean towards the more serious side, they tell stories about nuanced individuals doing something they love and reflecting on it authentically. It doesn’t hurt that the shoot is beautiful too.
The shorts included were “A Dog’s Tale” by Darren McCullough, which was from the perspective of dogs running down mountain bike trails. The beautiful slow motion shots and forest landscapes emphasized the emotions of feeling free in our surroundings. Other films include Dawn Kish’s “Can’t Beat this Place for Fun,” followed by a watercraft store in flagstaff, Arizona. The workers showed their love and passion for boat building, the importance of respecting history, tradition and environmental activism.
“There are different ways of approaching the land. Some of us use it as a fun place to recreate, some of us use it as litter or calm, some of us use it as a challenge, some of us see it as mythical or spiritual, and some of us look at it as one where we live, and I think these movies sum it all up,” Riley said.
The 2021 audience award-winning documentary, Precious female leader, was also part of the film festival. The film follows the story of Spencer O’Brien, the world famous snowboarder who ranked 12and at the 2014 Sochi Olympics and shocked fans who expected her to win gold. However, few people knew that Spencer had been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, which impacted her ability to compete. The film documents O’Brien’s connection to his Indigenous roots of his Haida and Kwakwaka’waka heritage, embracing his cultural identity and finding purpose and healing in his environment. Director Cassie De Colling also includes shots of the alpine landscape and snowboarding footage.
Junior Sam Markowitz, himself a former competitive skier, described the film as both profound and powerful.
“These films really show how all these activities are not limited to skiing or snowboarding; that’s life [of these athletes].”
The beauty of nature and the urgency of preserving the environment emerged as common themes throughout the films. The biggest takeaway from the Robyn Landes sophomore event had to do with this.
“Everyone connects to their environment in a unique way and has a different reason why they enjoy spending time outdoors. It reinforced the importance of finding what you love to do outside and being part of something bigger than yourself through the outdoors,” Landes said.
Other films shown at the event include ‘Breaking Trail,’ directed by Jesse Roesler, which follows Emily Ford as she embarks on a journey to hike the Ice Age National Scenic Hiking Trail in the mid-1960s. winter with only his sled dog for company.
“Movies are all good, but this one was really next level,” Riley said.
Banff attracted a large crowd of adults, students ranging from elementary to college level, and families with children. The excited and lively crowd also participated in a raffle during the intermission sponsored by Outdoor Education. Riley thinks the event and attendance was “successful” and Outdoor Education plans to hold the film festival again next year.
A movie, “INSIDE – A new ski experience“, particularly attracted the attention of the inhabitants. Two Hamilton residents rated this movie as their favorite because it was the funniest. Unlike the rest of the films, this one had few explicit ties to environmental conservation and social justice, and was also the only film produced by non-Americans. It told the short journey through a mountain cave from the perspective of freeriders Stefan Ager and Andreas Gumpenberger. This memorable journey was intermittent with humorous sound clips of the two reflecting and commenting on the seemingly extreme expedition from the comfort of a movie theater.
For Eric Barber, a sophomore, the most significant impact of the event was the personal reflection prompted by watching the films.
“I feel like in college there’s so much pressure to find a career that will make you a lot of money or make you ‘succeed’ and I feel like that often leaves little place your passions. You could tell the dories (the boats) that these people were making had so much love put into them, and that really stuck with me. The movies expose viewers to cultures they may not know or have misunderstandings and allow the filmmakers to present themselves on their own terms, and they’re all very inspiring too,” Barber said.