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The World Tour arrives in Uganda

The screening raised money to support the charity Youth Sport Uganda, which runs sports and development programs for children and youths.

This year marked the first screening of The Banff Mountain Film Festival World Tour in East Africa, with two packed shows in Kampala, Uganda. We talked with Oliver Woodruff, a consultant engineer and one of the screenings’ organizers, to get the rundown.

How did you choose the film program for these screenings? We wanted to impress those who attended with the quality and epic-ness of the films, but also inspire them to maybe give a new sport a go, so we selected the majority of the films with sports and activities that could all be done right here in Uganda – aside from the skiing ones. Those were just a selfish choice by me!

Did you have any unusual challenges in putting the screening together? One specific problem has to be the power. It’s not unusual for the main power to drop out right at the worst time and you have to rely on the backup generator. Unfortunately this happened an hour before the screening on the first night—and then we found the venue’s generator had run out of diesel. Luckily, with minutes to spare, the lights flickered back into life and the show went on, but there were a few sweaty palms.

How was the screening received? Who attended? We had a great turnout with a huge mixture of foreign expats from all over the world as well as some local Ugandans who were all blown away by the setup and quality of the films. There was a fantastic reaction to the screenings and some amazing feedback at the end.

Was there a crowd favourite? From the early feedback I would say that Crossing the Ice and Unicorn Sashimi were both crowd favourites, although Honnold got some solid laughs and people were seriously impressed with the feats in Industrial Revolutions and Being there.

Is there a culture of outdoor adventure and sports in Uganda? Uganda is truly blessed to have some of the best adventure sports in all of continental Africa, including South Africa. At Jinja, the Nile starts its epic journey to the Mediterranean by spilling over the falls and rapids which have become home to some of the best rafting and kayaking in the World.

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Unravelling the riddle of Ryeberg

Andrew Pyper, onstage at the Club for Ryeberg Live at Wordfest. Photo: Don Lee.

What is Ryeberg? Its website provides a helpful formula: written text + video clip/s = a Ryeberg, but there’s much more to it. Ryeberg invites writers and artists to tell stories through curated online video. According to their site, “Ryeberg curators select from the vast, disordered warehouses of video-sharing sites, then interpret and present their videos in a way that best serves their perspectives and purposes.”

So what, then, was I expecting to hear from authors Craig Davidson, Andrew Pyper, Joanna Kavenna, and D.W. Wilson when they came to Banff Wordfest for a Ryeberg Live event in the Club? Well, anything, really. I wanted to see what happens when writers descend into the wormhole that is online video. But what I wasn’t expecting was the starkly diverse interpretations, perspectives, and insights all four authors brought to their Ryebergs — a range that was simultaneously intellectual, creative, comical, and terrifying.

Andrew Pyper kicked things off by telling us that “fear is like sex.” Then he told us that the first 12 years of his life paralleled a crucial era of American horror cinema. Rosemary’s Baby, The Exorcist, and The Shining all influenced Pyper’s understanding of what storytelling was and could be. He showed us the trailer for The Shining, and spoke about restraint, and how horror could undersell as much as it could oversell.

After this, Pyper took us inside the elevator in the trailer for Dawn of the Dead, a two-second flash that reveals how “at its heart, horror is about opening doors.”

If Pyper talked about what helped open his creative doors, Craig Davidson plunged us into the brutally honest wormhole of his own psyche, an Internet vortex time suck where, as he put it, “the hole has no bottom.” Davidson navigated us through an online voyage that began with nostalgically researched types of candy, and clips discussing the virtues of Mexican Coke. Then it got horrifying.

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Adventurer Bruce Kirkby on the genius of Google and Burmese cheese

Adventurer, writer and photographer, Bruce Kirkby, has spent more than two decades exploring the most remote corners of the planet. He was here at the 2013 Banff Mountain Film and Book Festival wearing a number of different hats – as an interviewer, in conversation with Everest mountaineer  Apa Sherpa; as a panelist for the release of Rock, Paper, Fire (a collection of writings from Kirkby and other alumni of the Mountain and Wilderness Writing program) and as a jury member for the Banff Mountain Book Competition.

Author and adventurer, Bruce Kirkby, here during the 2013 Banff Mountain Film and Book Competition. Photo: Don Lee.

When I met up with him, he had only had three hours of sleep, but seemed to be buzzing from the adrenaline of the festival. I decided it was no time for lengthy discourse, so I opted for some quick-fire questions:

When travelling, what do you always take with you? A toque.

What are your best river, land, winter and summer adventures? Running the Blue Nile, Somalia; Walking across Iceland with my wife (37 days); paddling in Scorsbysund, Greenland (40 days) and visiting the Mergui Archipelago, Burma.

Who has been the most interesting adventure traveler you’ve met? Wilfred Thesiger, the desert explorer. He was the last of the great explorers and a beautiful writer too.

What do you consider the best form of travel? I’m having a bit of a love affair with the horse lately. Yes, I’d have to say horse.

How long have you gone without a shower? Somewhere between 40 and 60 days.

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My top 10 climbing film clichés

High-Lane-PosterI recently had the opportunity to watch the 89 films for the 2013 Banff Mountain Film Festival back to back with my fellow Jury members. I was with a team of experts, our butts and eyes were challenged watching eight hours of films per day with only coffee and chocolate to sustain us, and our discussions were insightful and enlightening. As the week went on, we started to notice trends and clichés, common themes and images that kept coming up. So here’s my top ten list of clichés and trends in adventure and climbing films: use these techniques carefully, use them sparingly, or avoid them at all costs.

  1. Opening with the sound of water, bringing in the piano music, then white text on a black title card: cliché and predictable. Try something new.
  2. Use of VO narration to create artificial tension. There were too many descriptions of all the ways you could die. This is a movie, not a lecture. If we can’t see it in the footage, you need to recut. VO gives insights into inner thoughts or events happening elsewhere that impact your subject and story. Avoid end-to-end narration, or save it for your slide show.
  3. “I hurt my mom and friends!” There are too many scenes where the athlete is describing that they know they hurt and scared their parents, friends, etc. Even if the audience is thinking it, don’t say it. It makes your subject look very unlikable.
  4. Don’t state the obvious. When you’re thousands of feet up an overhanging cliff, free solo, you don’t need to tell us that “one slip and you could die.” We can see what you’re doing from the video.
  5. Show emotions, don’t state them. If you have to say “This is crazy” or “I’m scared” and I can’t see it, then look to other devices. Music and sound is one of the best devices for telling us how to feel. Combined with the footage and the natural tension of the subject onscreen, we should get it.
  6. Music is the cue for the audience on how to feel. Even if the subject was listening to light fiddle music and polkas during an intense free solo, that might not be the right choice of music for the film. If your scene is light and playful, don’t use the music from Psycho. Conversely, if death is a distinct possibility, then circus music is also inappropriate. This is not a music video.
  7. The rotating star shot, with time lapse and slow motion – it looks cool, but when it appears every five minutes, it loses its impact. Time lapse can show the passage of time in an artistic way, and sow motion can be used to emphasize something cool and noteworthy, but there can be too much of a good thing.
  8. When visual effects and transitions are used 26 times in a 45 minute film, a cool thing again stops being cool. The reflection in the sunglasses is cool until it’s used more than once per film.
  9. Action is not enough! Thanks to YouTube, we’re no longer shocked or awed. Eric Perlman videos rocked about 20 years ago, but now you need to develop a character and have a story. If I don’t care about the characters, I don’t care what happens to them.
  10. And finally, stop with the inappropriate product placement. A shot of a Red Bull wind chime wins my prize for the most overt use of product placement.

My parting advice would be to think about whether you’re making this film for your peers, or are you trying to reach a wider audience? If you’re making a film for a wider audience, you may have to depart a bit from reality to enhance emotion and tension for those who don’t understand the technical. Your peers may accuse you of being melodramatic, but your film will be accessible to everyone. When meticulously planning your adventure, take a few moments to also plan your film. Create a loose map of how you’ll shoot it and be sure to have a general shot list. It’s much easier to get your footage the first time. The 2013 Grand Prize winner, North of the Sun, raised the bar on what’s possible for adventure filmmakers, and I look forward to see what is created in 2014 and beyond.

Banff Mountain Film and Book FestivalThe Banff Centre2013Benjamin Oberman is president and CEO of Film Festival Flix, a distributor of selected film festival films, a monthly theatrical series, and digital distribution platform. He was on the six-person international jury for the 2013 Banff International Film competition.

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On the spiral road to heaven

View of Mount Robson, highest peak in the Canadian Rockies. All photos by Afton Aikens.

View of Mount Robson, highest peak in the Canadian Rockies. All photos by Afton Aikens.

The first confirmed ascent of Mount Robson, the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies at 3,954 metres, occurred 100 years ago. To celebrate mountaineer and guide Conrad Kain summiting the peak in 1913, the Banff Mountain Film & Book Festival hosted a panel discussion called 100 Years on Mount Robson. The speakers talked about why the mountain still enchants us a century later — and it got me thinking about my own visit to Mount Robson two months ago to hike the stunning and ecologically diverse Berg Lake Trail. Though I only had time for a day hike, I made it to White Falls, 12.3 kilometres from the trailhead, and back out (Berg Lake itself is 21 kilometres in). The drastically varying scenery made it feel like I had wandered through several different worlds, on approach to a mountain also referred to as “the spiral road to heaven.”

“Geology has been very kind to Mount Robson,” panelist and Banff photographer Paul Zizka told the audience: the Berg Lake Trail itself crosses through three different vegetation zones. The trail begins winding along the left side of the Robson River, lush with thimbleberry plants and western red cedar and hemlock trees with large, sturdy trunks. The first major attraction — and first campsite — on the trail is Kinney Lake, which offers up a pristine reflection of Whitehorn Mountain. The trail then begins a series of ups and downs before opening up into the Valley of a Thousand Falls, an endless vista of waterfalls cascading over cliffs. Crossing a suspension bridge leads to several switchbacks, and eventually, White Falls, where I ended my trek for the day. I took pictures:

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Apa Sherpa’s early instinct for survival

Apa Sherpa (right) in conversation with Bruce Kirkby at the 2013 Banff Mountain Film and Book Festival. Photo: Rita Taylor.

Apa Sherpa (right) in conversation with Bruce Kirkby at the 2013 Banff Mountain Film and Book Festival. Photo: Rita Taylor.

During his onstage conversation with Bruce Kirkby as part of the Banff Mountain Film and Book Festival, Apa Sherpa, who has summitted Everest a record 21 times, told the audience about his first mountaineering accomplishment: surviving a natural disaster at just two months old. His mother had placed him in a wicker basket and covered it in a blanket to keep him warm. The blanket provided an air pocket when he was swept away moments later by an avalanche that roared through his hometown of Thame, Nepal.

My mother thought I was dead and she was weeping and calling for me. She was very, very sad. But then she heard me crying somewhere in the distance and found me alive in the basket. Ever since that day she said I was very special and I would do good things.

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