Attendance at least year’s Vancouver International Mountain Film Festival was “record-breaking”, according to festival founder Alan Formanek—“Close to 8,000 people,” he tells the Straight by phone. Not bad for an operation that started as a weekender in 1998.
This year’s edition is the biggest yet. Programmer Tom Wright needed to fill three separate venues for a 10-day period (February 8 to 17) and managed to schedule a whopping 66 films. “It was a really strong year for adventure films from all around the world,” Wright says in a phone interview, adding that 19 of those movies are Canadian, with nine—like Alex Savage’s ropeless rock-climbing short “Western Gold: Squamish”—originating from the Sea-to-Sky corridor. “We really do have a strong little niche community here that are making some really good, creative adventure films.”
Typically, Wright and Formanek have managed to cover an exceedingly broad range of subjects. When Savage’s film plays at the Rio on Monday (February 11) in what VIMFF is calling An Afternoon of Adrenaline, it’ll be billed with a German-made portrait of Vancouver unicycling pioneer Kris Holm (“Focal Point”), a documentary covering the first all-disabled ascent of El Capitan in Yosemite (“The Gimp Monkeys”), and a B.C.–based film about the growing sport of canyoneering (“Down the Line”).
This kind of inclusiveness is reflected in the other program titles, like the Big Air, Trail Running, and Whitewater shows, while BASE jumpers, highliners, mountain bikers, and off-widthers aren’t likely to feel left out, either. Added to this is a full schedule of guest speakers. “Quite often half the program is a speaker taking the stage and telling stories,” Formanek explains. “It’s nice to have a live component.”
There’s also a political angle to some of the programming. Wright has billed Ready to Fly—about champion ski jumper Lindsay Van’s historic efforts to crack the Olympics—with Jeff Orlowski’s breathtaking climate-change doc Chasing Ice. “They’re outdoor enthusiasts, but they’re film enthusiasts, too,” Wright says of VIMFF’s ever-growing audience. “They want to watch something with substance.”
The programmer himself is especially excited about bringing in Nina Caprez to present the movie “Silbergeier”, in which the indefatigable Swiss climber takes on one of the most notorious multipitch routes on Earth. “She climbs really hard stuff that no other women are doing, and quite scary, dangerous routes that most females tend to shy away from,” Wright says.
Equally, Wright is aware that in deciding which movies will take the festival’s 11 prizes, the VIMFF jury is looking for what he terms the “whole bundle”. “A lot of films that have won awards haven’t been the best-shot; it’s about the characters, and the story line, and relating to people on a personal level,” he says. “But, obviously, cinematography helps, too.”
To that end, Wright cops to a couple of personal favourites. There’s the opening-night presentation at the Centennial Theatre of Autuna, an award winner at last year’s Kendal Mountain Festival in the U.K. that follows four adventure climbers deep into the Venezuelan jungle. “There are still certain places where it’s just as unpleasant exploring nowadays as it was a hundred years ago,” Wright notes. “A truly wild environment but some stunning scenery, and a really funny mix of people in there.”
And then there’s Crossing the Ice, which follows two very possibly insane Australians as they make the first successful trek from the edge of South Antarctica to the South Pole and back, minus any kind of assistance.
“It’s just a really good story of proper survival,” Wright enthuses. “They documented it themselves and you really get a true sense of how hard this trip was for them. A real tale of perseverance, really.”