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Winners of the 2015 Banff Mountain Film and Book Festival

The 40th Banff Mountain Film and Book Festival has wrapped up in the snowy Canadian Rockies.

The Great Alone, directed by Greg Kohs, which captured the inspiring comeback story of champion sled dog racer, Lance Mackey, has won the Grand Prize at the 2015 Banff Mountain Film and Book Festival.

From his sunniest days as a boy to his darkest hours trapped in the arms of substance abuse, dog sledding just may be Lance Mackey’s road to salvation as he embarks on the Iditarod, one of the hardest sled dog races in the world.

“Good films are hard to make…but great films are nearly impossible…and often times they sneak up on you without warning,” said Cory Richards, a member of the 2015 Banff Mountain Film and Book Festival film jury.

“Our grand prize winner this year subtly weaves threads of family, unexpected friendship, raw vulnerability and extreme perseverance. The tapestry created is a powerful and deeply emotional human portrait, illuminating our innate shortcomings and vulnerabilities…and our ultimate drive to connect with ourselves and the wilderness…..and overcome.”

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Category winners for the 2015 Banff Mountain Film Competition include a number of excellent films. The Great Alone won Grand Prize, but also best Exploration and Adventure film. The Creative Excellence Award went to Cailleach, directed by Rosie Reed Hillman. The film is about Morag, who is 86. She lives alone at the end of a track looking out to sea on her croft on the Isle of Harris, Outer Hebrides, with her three cats and twelve sheep. Morag was born in this house and has lived here her whole life, following five generations of the family who came before her. Cailleach is a portrait of Morag and her simple and peaceful life as she contemplates her next chapter, shares her unique sense of independence and the connection she has to her wild island home.

The best film for Mountain Culture is Sherpa, directed by Jennifer Peedom. The film is about Himalayan workers who repeatedly traverse Mount Everest carrying supplies and the risk they are taking. This stunning documentary, shot by high-altitude cinematographer Renan Ozturk, explores the unequal relationship between cashed-up foreign expeditions and their guides. It is also a story of family and tradition, as exemplified by Phurba Tashi Sherpa, an experienced climber at the heart of this commanding film.

The best Climbing film went to A Line Across the Sky, directed by Peter Mortimer and Josh Lowell. Long considered impossible, coveted by many and attempted by a few, the Fitz Traverse has fueled the imaginations of climbers in Patagonia for decades. Tracing the iconic skyline of Cerro Fitz Roy and its six satellite peaks, it spans four miles and 13,000 feet across snow and ice-covered rock, with epic route finding and endless rapelling. Seizing their chance during a rare extended weather window, Tommy Caldwell and Alex Honnold went big. The pair completed the first ascent in a five-day push during February 2014. Watch the trailer of the upcoming film from Big Up and Sender Films.

The best film for Mountain Sports is Chasing Niagara, directed by Rush Sturgess. The film tracks the preparations of Mexico’s Rafa Ortiz, one of the world’s best and most daring big waterfall kayakers, to run the 167-foot Niagara Falls. In 1990, Jesse Sharpe attempted to run it in a decked canoe and died. For Ortiz to prepare, he runs the 189-foot Palouse Falls in Varacruz and makes the second descent. It was a world record run for Tyler Bradt, who joins Ortiz for his training. The suspense as to whether Ortiz will run Niagara adds depth to the film. While being an adrenaline packed experience, the film is also a homage to friendship in extreme sports as Ortiz and friends put three years of training into the run. In the end, he questions whether he should run it at all.

The best Snow Sports film went to Eclipse, directed by Anthony Bonello. It was a ridiculous idea from the start. Travel to the edge of the earth to see one of the planet’s rarest events- a total solar eclipse in the Arctic. Faced with the likely reality of bad weather obscuring the sun and having to battle frigid, arctic temperatures and winds, the odds did not favor success. Despite this the Salomon Freeski TV team and set out on an expedition to realize photographer, Reuben Krabbe’s grand vision to capture a single unique image- one of skiing during a solar eclipse. Persistence, preparation and a positive attitude was a guarantee of nothing as March 20th, 2015, dawned. The fate of the expedition’s goal would rest entirely in the hands of the weather gods.

The best film for Mountain Environment and Natural History went to Hadwin’s Judgement, directed by Sasha Snow. The film chronicles the tormented transformation of Grant Hadwin from expert logger to environmental terrorist, a man who dared to challenge the destruction of the world’s last great temperate rainforest. Hadwin’s one-man crusade culminated in a perverse and outrageous act of protest that was, in itself, a crime against nature.

The best Short Mountain Film was The Important Places, directed by Forest Woodward. The short film is about the connection between a father and son, and the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon. The film explores the growth of these two men, through different stages of their lives, and how the thread woven between them, the Colorado River, brought them back the most important place of all.

The best Feature Length Mountain Film was K2: Touching the Sky, directed by Eliza Kubarska. The children of acclaimed alpinists, who died on K2 in Karakorum Mountains, undertake an expedition to answer the question: what is the price of passion.

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The Special Jury Mention went to Operation Moffat, directed by Jen Randall and Claire Carter. This is a film that takes inspiration and wit from the colourful climbing life of Britain’s first female mountain guide, Gwen Moffat. Grappling with her preference for mountains over people, adventure over security, wilderness over tick lists, writer Claire Carter and Jen Randall climb, run, scramble and swim their way through some of Gwen’s most cherished British Landscapes. Including candid interviews with 91 year old Gwen, a fresh take on landscape photography, previously unseen archive materials and unashamedly real action sequences, this film will capture Gwen’s infectious excitement for a life constantly seeking something strange or beautiful around the next bend.

The other Special Jury Mention was Overburden, directed by Chad Stevens. When a coal mine disaster kills her brother, Betty, a pro-coal activist, joins forces with Lorelei, a tree-hugging environmentalist, to take on the most dangerous coal company in the United States. After seven years of verite documentation exploring the social, environmental and economic complexities in this underrepresented community, this film premiered in 2015 at the Full Frame Film Festival on the five year anniversary of the Upper Big Branch Mine explosion, the largest mining disaster in over 40 years and a major plot point in the film. On November 13, 2014, the former CEO of Massey Energy – the company responsible for the Upper Big Branch disaster – was indicted on conspiracy charges for his involvement in the mining disaster and the deaths of 29 coal miners. Don Blankenship is the first coal executive to ever be indicted on charges linked directly to the deaths of workers under his watch. These are historic criminal charges.

The People’s Choice Award for Radical Reels, which was hosted by climber Cedar Wright, went to Showdown at Horseshoe Hell, directed by Pete Mortimer and Josh Lowell. How hard can it be?  24 hours of Horseshoe Hell is a climbing competition that has you climbing day and night, and racking up points for your climbs as you go.  You just have to beat Alex Honnold.  The People Choice Award for the festival went to La La La, directed by Nice Rosen, Peter Mortimer and Josh Lowell.

Jury members in 2015 included Aldo Audisio, director of the Museo Nazionale della Montagna in Italy; professional Canadian climber Sarah Hueniken; British documentary director Dina Mufti; Vice President of Petzl, Peter Popall; and adventurer and photographer, Cory Richards.

For a list of the category winners for the 2015 book awards, visit here. The grand prize went to Medicine Walk by Richard Wagamese. As book jury member Harry Vandervlist said, “Medicine Walk tells an old kind of tale: a pilgrimage to a special place, powerful stories told along the way, the stitching-up of a ravelled relationship between father and son. In this novel the story is distinctively Canadian, yet relevant to so many mountain cultures, as it speaks of a first nations family – diverted and displaced by recent history – who must re-create a deep connection with one another and with home. That home in the Western Canadian mountains is a central character here. Richard Wagamese gives the rivers, the hillsides, the ridges and the valleys a powerful voice in his beautiful, tragic and hopeful story.

Gripped editor Brandon Pullan was busy at the festival hosting a dozen Basecamp podcasts. Some of his guests included Alex Honnold, Tommy Caldwell, Kelly Cordes, Greg Child and Lydia Brady. They will be available to listen to at the start of the new year. Be sure to subscribe to Basecamp, which is produced at The Banff Centre by visiting iTunes here. For more info on the podcast, which explores the deep and dark about climbing, but also the fun and hilarious, visit here.