Inspiration from Banff Mountain Film Festival

Each year, the Banff Mountain Film Festival World Tour displays some of the best representatives of creativity and outdoor adventure at extreme heights and then takes a selection of films on the road (the festival celebrates photography, writing, and art as well, but those art-forms don’t travel). The most common descriptor of the festival and its offerings is “inspiring”. So, after attending the festival in my city along with many hundreds of other audience members, the question is what are we going to do with all of this inspiration?

Each protagonist in the various films is awe-provoking in their extreme passion – a quality I have been struggling to find within myself as I plan out grad school and my future goals.  We held our breath as Espen Fadnes dropped off the side of a mountain in a wingsuit designed to allow him to fly over 150 miles per hour sometimes just meters feet above the ground. We commiserated with Cedar Wright and Alex Honnold as they biked 750 miles between climbing California’s highest peaks without any rope. We struggled to watch Lindsey Van and the world’s premiere female ski jumpers push to get their event into the Olympic schedule for the first time. We dance in our seats as Harald Philipp and Thomas Öhler carved stunning paths down a treacherous part of the Alps called the Sea of Rock.  We soared through filmmaker Peter McBride’s visualization of the endangered importance of the Colorado River for ecosystems, energy, drinking water, and the life it has supported for thousands of years. We trembled watching the clash of mountain cultures between climbers Ueli Steck, Simone Moro, Jonathan Griffith and the local Sherpa as the alpinists’ attempt to cut a new route across Mount Everest interfered with the Sherpa’s needs and expectations while fixing lines for the commercial tour companies. We chuckled as we glimpsed World Kayak Champion Trip Deacon’s attempts to kayak the streets of San Francisco without his kayak – you’ll just have to check out the film to figure out what that means. Even the organization benefiting from ticket sales, GirlVentures, is awesome in its work empowering young girls to engage in outdoor activities that help them develop confidence, leadership, and self-identity while connecting with nature.

But while each of these amazing athletes are on the cutting edge of their sport – and often on the edge of human capability – I found myself wondering if these feats would still be possible in a future that follows or current progression of global pollution, environmental degradation, weather extremes due to climate change including unforeseen floods, multi-year droughts and astounding glacial recession.

Many of the films focus on people my age doing extreme acts of triumph. I often struggle to find my own triumphs in my career, education, family life or quotidian activities.  But these films helped me see that fear is natural – there are feats which are so ominous we would be crazy to approach them without some precaution. However, as the films reminded me, climbing mountains is about finding one sturdy handhold after another until you’ve reached the peak and can see all sides of the landscape around you, where you’ve come from and where you’re going next. Often times, here at NRDC and in the never-ending summit to keep strong environmental protections in place, we get discouraged and bogged down trying to find the next handhold in the cliff. So I challenge young environmentalists, including those who sat in the audience with me at the Banff Film Festival, to continue climbing the tallest peaks in the country but also to find a way to protect our National and Regional Parks; continue striving for gender equality on the slopes and for equal health protections for fence-line communities struggling with industrial pollution; continue pushing the limits of new sports (as quirky as they may be) but also push your Congressmen to protect our natural resources for the generations of nature lovers behind us.


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