The next best thing to breathing mountain air is watching awe-inspiring films about adventurers in nature. What began in 1976 as a small Canadian film festival has evolved into the renowned Banff Mountain Film Festival World Tour, now in its fifth year. Sponsored by Whole Earth Provision Co., with proceeds benefiting Texas State Parks, the Austin tour stop hits the Paramount Theatre this weekend. And this year's film slate is bigger, bolder, and more badass than ever.
On Saturday, April 12, the Radical Reels roster packs a punch with 10 shorts focused on extreme sports in nature's most jaw-dropping landscapes. Audiences can catch sick tricks from the world's best female freeskiers in "Nine Queens – Shades of Winter," a behind-the-scenes glimpse of kayakers' river-based spirituality in "Beyond the Drop," and Pamela Shanti Pack's injury-laden but mesmerizing wide crack climbs in Utah in "Off-Width Outlaw."
The next evening, Sunday, April 13, the World Tour portion is set to blow your mind and warm your heart. From canyoneering adventures of waterfall descents in "Down the Line" to the rush of wingsuit flying in "Split of a Second," 11 short to mid-length films illuminate the epiphanies that come from extreme physical challenges and the human mastery of fear. Gorgeous cinematography in "Cascada" highlights a group of guys kayaking waterfalls in Mexico, and a narrated journal entry tells of adrenaline and magic, summarizing this tour's theme: "Athletes and artists – the line between the two is gone now." An intriguing personification of a living and dying body of water, the poetic conservation narrative of "I Am Red" ought to make this short film about the most endangered river in America – the Colorado River – particularly poignant for Austin. In "Return to the Tepuis," a 71-year-old scientist seeks out ancient frogs living in a biodiversity hot spot of South America, by attempting his first rappel – down several hundred feet into a sinkhole chasm.
Two chapters of the full-length feature Into the Mind will screen, and even the glimpse is breathtaking: helicopter views, bald eagles, fire-tinged tribal dancing, and skiing down British Columbian snow-covered cliffs of insanity. Young, beautiful, and keeping pace with her male counterparts, bold British climber Hazel Findlay wows in "Spice Girl (Reel Rock 8)." Of her dangerous sport, she says, "We live in a society where women aren't supposed to be brave," and then goes on to master an E9 and attempt an 18 pitch wall in Morocco with her friend, another female climber. "Keeper of the Mountains," directed by Allison Otto, takes a different approach to telling mountain stories. Born in 1923, Elizabeth Hawley, an American journalist who traveled to Nepal in 1960 and never left, has (proudly) never climbed a mountain. Yet she is credited with the largest, most dedicated archive of Himalayan expeditions, one whose details weave a historically riveting tale of why Everest climbers do what they do, and why the rest of us care about these decades of triumph and tragedy.
These exploration stories written from the heart of the Earth teach us how to truly appreciate and conserve it. Last year's films screened to a packed house of thrill-seekers and lovers of the wild, so get there early.
Tickets to the Banff Mountain Film Festival are available at the box office and online at the Paramount Theatre website (www.austintheatre.org).
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