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A look back at the 2014 Banff Mountain Film Festival

Another Banff International Film and Book Festival has come and gone. There were some heart-felt films, adrenaline rush clips and lots of memorable moments during the #NineEpicDays.

The nine-day event, which takes place in the heart of the Rockies at the Banff Centre, ran from Nov. 1 to Nov. 9. Things got going with David Lama’s first free ascent of Cerro Torre film called Cerro Torre, a snowball’s chance in hell. The film went on to win best climbing film. It was a well-made documentary, though some folks were confused why Jim Bridwell made a number of cameos. Even David Lama seemed confused about it. The Karsts of China had some amazing cinematography and, at eight minutes long, was a perfect length.

Interview with David Lama

On Sunday, Jeff Lowe’s Metanoia made its world premiere. The film is about a remarkable man’s journey through life on the edge of extreme alpinism to his recent challenges of dealing with a debilitating disease. It was one of the best films of the week. The audience gave an emotional and heart-felt standing ovation.

Interview with Jeff Lowe

Tuesday’s Radical Reels is always a sell-out event and this year proved no different. Sochi Paralympic gold medalist Josh Dueck MC’d the event again. Though his energy was not as radical as last year, he still rocked the house. Cedar Wright’s Sufferfest 2 took the win for fan favourite. It was a much-deserved win, as Wright worked for three months on the film. Showcasing desert tower soloing and bringing solar power to homes on Navajoes land through the Honnold Foundation, I hope we see more films like it in the future.

Honnold Foundation

On Wednesday night, athlete and guide Jen Olson gave a great presentation at the Dirtbag Cafe. After the break, Paul Diffley’s Distilled gave insights into Scottish winter climbing with Andy Cave.

Jen Olson

At the Whyte Museum, Pat and Baiba Morrow’s Heart of the Himalaya exhibit showcased 35 years of trekking and climbing photography in the Himalayas from Bhutan and India to Tibet.

Pat Morrow’s Photography 

On Thursday, Barry Blanchard read excerpts from his book The Calling to a packed Max Bell Auditorium. The stories kept everyone on the edge of their seat. Although hopes were high, the home-town boy’s book didn’t win the grand prize for the book awards. Some international jury members said the book’s publisher Patagonia Books didn’t do Canada’s alpine legend’s memoirs the justice it deserved. The Calling made it to number four on Amazon’s best sport and outdoor books of 2014. Blanchard’s book ends in 1988, which leaves room for a sequel. The book is a must-have and a must-read. It will surely motivate a new generation of alpine climbers.

The Calling

The best book award went to John Porter’s One Day as a Tiger and for good reason. The book took 30 years to write and is said to be one of the most important pieces of mountaineering literature in a decade.

Book Awards

Also on Thursday, Steve Swenson interviewed Will Gadd on stage at the Eric Harvie Theatre to a packed room. Red Bull’s movie Will Gadd: Frozen Titans made its world premiere. The film featured Will Gadd and his Helmcken Falls route Overhead Hazard. It’s an awesome film. What the film left out were the efforts by the other team members. Frozen Titans has some cutting-edge cinematography.

Frozen Titans trailer

On Friday, Jimmy Chin, Hazel Findlay and Mark Synnott had a chat on stage at the Eric Harvie Theatre about their 2012 trip to Oman. They could have gone on for hours, a great team dynamic.

It was followed by the eventual winner of the festival, Valley Uprising. The film features climbers during the hay-day of Yosemite free climbing. Sender Films said they spent 10 years producing it. It left out some of the most important stories about Yosemite free climbing, including Tommy Caldwell and the Dawn Wall.

Valley Uprising got Alex Honnold, Cedar Wright, Steph Davis, Dean Potter and Timmy O’Neill fired from Clif Bar (yes, Clif Bar fired them because of their soloing, highlining and illegal BASE jumps,) which only goes to show the disconnection between the corporate side of things and the sponsored athletes we’ve come to love. It proves once again that climbing is not a mainstream sport. Valley Uprising is good old-fashioned climbing porn, but was it the best film of the festival? After Valley Uprising was announced the winner, I heard one spectator say, “Has the festival lost the plot? The Yosemite story is tired and I’m tired of it.”

Valley Uprising trailer

The weekend films included Stone Free, a film about Julian Lines, Britain’s most accomplished soloist. As well, Mending the Line, which won people’s choice award. It’s about 90-year-old war vet Frank Moore returning to the rivers he once helped free. Fly fishing was a common theme of this year’s festival, as Yvon Chouinard’s Simple Fly Fishing won best guidebook, beating some high-quality climbing guidebooks.

On Saturday, Yvon Chouinard had a tantalizing conversation with Ed Douglas about his film DamNation. At the same time, in a different theatre, Raphael Slawinski introduced his, Ian Welsted’s and Jesse Huey’s film, K6 West. One memorable quote by Slawinski’s introduction was, “If you get good footage from an alpine climb, the route really wasn’t that hard.”


On Sunday, Urs Kallen was awarded the Summit of Excellence and the John Lauchlan Award was given to Jay Mills, Steve Holeczi and Eammon Walsh for their trip to the Yukon in 2015.

Urs Kallen

Has the Banff Mountain Film Festival lost the plot? Absolutely not. It remains one of the most important mountain-culture gatherings. I had the opportunity to meet cutting-edge athletes, authors and producers. My eyes were opened to new places and adventures I didn’t know I could have. I saw people laugh, cry and get angry. I watched a dozen memorable films and interviewed some of the most interesting people in the sport of climbing. Did the best film win? According to the jury, Valley Uprising was the best. With a different jury, maybe a different film would have won. That’s how these things go. I’m already looking forward to next year’s Banff Mountain Film Festival’s #NineEpicDays.

Banff Mountain Film Festival winners and Photos from the 2014 festival

Banff Film Fest
Banff Film Fest

Gripped’s editor Brandon Pullan spent most of the film festival week watching films and interviewing climbers on Banff Centre Radio. He interviewed David Lama, Hazel Findlay, Cedar Wright, Ed Douglas, Steve Swenson, Jack Tackle and many more.