Jhe last two years have been difficult at times for those who enjoy outdoor sports. Climbers with no rocks at their doorstep have damaged their elbows hanging from the doorframes. Riders have invested in indoor training machines. For many, getting out means running through nearby parks and rushing to hills and lakes whenever the opportunity arises.
While outdoor adventure documentaries have long been a staple of this community, they’ve taken on new meaning during the pandemic as reminders of a world beyond working from home and trying to stay fit.
the Banff Mountain Film Festival has long presented the best of the genre and in recent years has also taken it on tour: during the rest of the year it is shown in 50 venues across the UK and Ireland.
Some of the films will be familiar to many, but are worth capturing on the big screen. In this category is Slabsfeaturing Scottish mountain biker Danny MacAskill’s terrifying descent over the 500m Dubh Slabs on the Isle of Skye.
Shot during lockdown in 2020, the film garnered millions of views when it was first uploaded last year. I’ve watched it several times, and the steepest section’s descent from MacAskill, a rounded ridge of bald granite still has my heart in my mouth.
“Like all of us, 2020 has thrown some curve balls in terms of travel and plans for the year,” MacAskill said. “I spent the first few months of lockdown riding for myself. When the lockdown loosened up a bit, we decided to go out and try to make some movies. I thought I’d start by watching close to my house.
“The Dubh Slabs are a well-known scramble route that climbers and mountaineers use to access the Cuillin Ridge. It is this long piece of bare, backed rock that rises from Loch Coruisk.
“We ended up filming the slabs over two days instead of one. We managed to get a lot of lines that I dreamed of doing on the first day, but the cloud came towards the end and the last slab became off limits as it started to rain. I tried to roll all the way down, much to the horror of my friends.
“The bike started to get a little out of control when I was about 50 yards off the bottom. Luckily I got it back. I don’t think it was very enjoyable for my friends watching. I was on the edge The tires were at 99% of their grip limit and the brakes were also at their limit.
Also on the subject of mountain biking is follow the lightin which professional cyclist Kilian Bron travels to Cappadocia, Turkey, to ride among its photogenic “fairy chimneys” – the singular towers clustered in the highlands of central Anatolia.
He is often seen rolling under a cloud of hot air balloons, but the most dramatic scene shows Bron following a drone-mounted flare through a narrow canyon at night.
The film’s French director, Pierre Henni, says:[That shot] took us three evenings and we had to experiment a lot.
“It was almost dark, so the only source of light for the drone pilot and the pilot (as well as the filmer and the photographer) was this flare on the drone, so he had to stay close to Kilian. As soon as the eruption was ending we had to jump on our headlamps so the drone operator could see the landing zone.
Filmed in Germany Frankenjura region, Direct action offers a different kind of sweaty palm experience. It follows the protracted efforts of France’s top climber Melissa Le Nevé to be the first woman to scale the great limestone prow from which the film takes its title – nearly 30 years after the late Wolfgang Güllich made the original ascent. .
Climbing the short but fiercely overhanging wall in the forest near Bayreuth requires a sequence of movements over single-finger pockets in the rock, all clearly shown in the film, as well as a spectacular leap for a hold.
Still, it all looks manicured alongside Get out of the North Pole, which follows famed polar traveler Børge Ousland and his colleague Mike Horn’s attempt to make a minimalist 1,300 km traverse of the thinning Arctic Ocean ice.
The pair used rafts and ski poles to navigate the thinnest ice when they couldn’t ski, and the resulting film depicts an exercise in elemental suffering in a place few of us will ever visit.
“When it’s dark 24 hours a day, everything becomes much more difficult,” Ousland said. “You only see the small beam of your headlamp – it’s your world. You have no idea what’s behind you. A polar bear can sneak up on you without you even realizing it.
If that sounds difficult, there are several other entertaining films on the program, including History of dogs.
Anyone who has run or mountain biked with their dog will feel an immediate affinity, with the story of Raven, a 13-year-old retired trail dog who lives in Squamish, BC. Although it’s a twist on a familiar format – mountain bikers jumping berms in slow motion – its real charm is in the dogs hurtling down the descents with their owners.
Quite different yet is the award-winning Dream Mountainfollowing Nepalese mountaineer Pasang Lhamu Sherpa Akita who climbed 6,440 meters of Cholatse in the Everest region with her husband and two-year-old son in November 2019.
The first mountaineering instructor in Nepal and the first Nepalese woman to summit K2, the world’s second highest mountain, Pasang finds the Cholatse expedition different with her son in tow. Now she must consider the conflicts between her climbing dreams and her sense of responsibility.
“One morning I was interviewing Pasang on a ridge overlooking Mount Everest and the village of Khumjung, where she was born,” says filmmaker Cira Crowell. “She struggled to find ways to express the challenges she had encountered growing up – she was told that climbing and mountains were inappropriate for girls.
“A bell rang in the cold air and pupils from Sir Edmund Hillary School rushed out of the stacked stone buildings to line up in neat rows for morning assembly. This triggered a memory in Pasang, who said, “You know, all those boys over there are free to do whatever they want to do in life. Girls can’t. All girls should also be able to achieve their dreams.
“It was a micro stall moment as we considered the plight of the girls below and how limited their options still are. This moment embodied the central theme of Dream Mountain.