Text by Keith Rutowski
Prior to a New York City screening of the 33rd annual Banff Mountain Film Festival World Tour on Tuesday night, I heard an exchange between a mother and daughter that would concisely sum up the event:
“Is it a cartoon, mommy?”
“No, honey, no cartoons. There’ll be a lot of nature, though.”
Aside from one "cartoon," the mother’s description was right on the money. National Geographic and New Balance are sponsors of the festival's more than 300-city worldwide tour to showcase the best in mountain sports, destinations, and culture, serving as a compendium of man’s diverse relationship to nature. This year’s offerings are particularly riveting.
Viewers followed adrenaline junkies throughout seven films, watching as they biked, climbed, and BASE jumped from city center to sandstone spire. A steady stream of "oohs" and ahs, broken up by occasional rounds of laughter or howls of vicarious pain characterized a spirited reception of the work.
The films themselves vary in length and setting. The shortest, and perhaps most original, is a three-minute animated film entitled Papiroflexia (Spanish for "origami"), which follows an urban dweller as he transforms the manmade world around him into a more natural one. Planes morph into birds, buildings into mountains, and so on until the protagonist finally directs the magic at himself.
The six other films stick to a few common themes: the joy, sorrow, and natural high experienced in a life spent outdoors. Though unrelated to mountain culture, the trial/BMX riders in Crux astonish spectators with feats of balance and precision by hopping and riding on and over curbs, vehicles, railings and chains. Impressive, yes, but it’s difficult to stack up against the night’s premiere film, Journey to the Center.
- Nat Geo Expeditions
The 55-minute-long feature follows three BASE jumpers as they travel to China to confront a 2,000-foot deep karst doline known as a tiankeng, or "heavenly pit." In addition to joining an American, Norwegian, and Australian for a strong social dynamic, the film also probes BASE-jumper psychology by begging the question: What exactly motivates people to hurl themselves into the void?
The question of motive might be asked of any of the risk-taking athletes featured in the Banff Mountain Film Festival collection. Most of the films—Journey to the Center among them—offer individual perspectives, but never yield a definitive answer. I’m not sure there is one. But after all of the glorious, pulse-pounding, white-knuckled moments, I’m not sure the question even mattered.
Do you have any theories on what motivates extreme athletes? Post it below.