Storytellers gearing up for Vancouver International Mountain Film Festival

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      On a wintry night, no one appreciates a good bedtime story more than Vancouver International Mountain Film Festival director Alan Formanek. Over the coming week (January 22 to 29), 25 guest speakers will spin gripping adventure tales at three cozy festival venues: North Vancouver’s Centennial Theatre, the Pacific Cinémathí¨que, and the H. R. McMillan Space Centre. Curl up in the cozy confines of these auditoriums as storm winds blow, both literally and figuratively, outside and across projection screens. Wear your best tuque and you’ll fit right in.

      When the Georgia Straight spoke with Formanek at his North Shore office, he explained the guidelines he uses when lining up guest speakers. “We look for great storytellers, like Colin and Julie Angus, who have experienced some touching, personal-growth adventures that the audience can relate to. Local, grass-roots films about low-impact, minimal-gear treks with personal growth at their core are our preference, even though we do feature big productions as well. As for themes, we have some ideas, but usually we just spread the word and whoever responds helps shape our format.”

      This wide-net approach has served Formanek well. Now in its 13th year, the VIMFF has introduced local audiences to a legion of Canadian and international adventurers whose remarkable outdoor accomplishments are rarely spotlighted. “Personally, I look forward to the climbing night the most,” said the Slovakian-born mountaineer. “This year, we’re presenting Maxime Turgeon, quite possibly Canada’s best alpine climber, who spent 18 days self-supported last summer with just his bike and his climbing shoes, going from one great face to the next, soloing eight of the biggest walls in the northern Alps—a remarkable feat.”

      One B.C. climber renowned for exceptional accomplishments is Pat Morrow. In 1986, he became the first mountaineer to summit the highest peaks on all seven continents. Formanek referred to Morrow as “a deeply spiritual person, a great resource who is constantly recommending films and speakers to us”. A skilled photographer and video producer, Morrow makes his fifth appearance at the festival, this time with a mixed-media tribute to Conrad Kain, an Austrian who came to the Rockies in 1909 as the first professional mountain guide hired by the Alpine Club of Canada. When reached at his home in Wilmer in the Columbia Valley, where Kain also put down roots, Morrow recalled how at 16 he wandered into the Bugaboos near Kimberley at the invitation of older climbers.

      “They encouraged me to read Kain’s biography, Where the Clouds Can Go, which really inspired me. It’s a seminal work on Canadian mountaineering, a local book which talks about exploration at the turn of the century.” The book was originally published in 1935, immediately after Kain’s death, and Morrow said he felt privileged to write the introduction to the fourth edition, issued last year. “The book has never been out of print. For the past 50 years, fans from around the world have been coming to climb Kain’s routes on Mount Robson and the Bugaboo Spire, where he put up the first ascents.”

      Morrow lamented that in recent years young climbers in B.C. and Alberta have gravitated more to mastering indoor climbing walls. “We’ve got to get them outside to understand the camaraderie of the rope. That’s why the Conrad Kain Centennial Society has been raising funds to sponsor teenagers to climb in the Bugaboos. After 400 Kain fans showed up in Wilmer for last year’s centennial event, we were able to send out two groups of six and eight kids led by members of the Association of Canadian Mountain Guides.”

      Another climber credited with inspiring local high schoolers is North Vancouver’s Gordon White. During the past three years, the author of the Stein Valley Wilderness Guidebook has led students from the Vancouver Waldorf School, including Formanek’s daughters, on eight-day backcountry excursions through the Stein Valley Nlaka’pamux Heritage Park on the eastern fringe of the Lower Mainland. As a guest speaker, White will be joined by his charges for a presentation on their trips. “What the kids are telling me is that the Stein is a great place to learn. These aren’t your average mainstream teenagers. They’re highly evolved young people with a good perspective on life, very alternative thinkers, respectful, and well-mannered.”

      According to Formanek, the Waldorf School’s connection to the Stein is visceral; in the early 1990s, staff and students played an active role in lobbying for the preservation of the Stein as a provincial park. White, who did the first ski traverse of the Stein’s South Divide 20 years ago, will present highlights of the Stein gleaned from repeated forays through the wilderness valley. “During my trips, I see visits from groups like Waldorf, York House, and Boy Scouts, having an amazing impact on kids’ leadership skills. The Stein has great lessons about how protection brings many groups together. Despite the pine-beetle kill, it’s still an intact watershed with wolves, salmon, bears, and owls in large numbers. This beauty and diversity is what I plan to highlight.”

      Grab your slippers, jammies, and hot toddies, and gather round.

      ACCESS: The Vancouver International Mountain Film Festival runs January 22 to 29. Pat Morrow presents “Conrad Kain: The Prince of Canadian Mountain Guides” on January 25 at the Pacific Cinémathí¨que in Vancouver. Gordon White presents “Stein Valley: Stories and Lessons from B.C.’s Wilderness Classroom” on January 26 at the Centennial Theatre in North Vancouver. To learn more about Morrow and the Conrad Kain project, visit or