North Shore Rescue documentary kicks off Vancouver International Mountain Film Festival

“Risk and Rescue” highlights all-volunteer team’s funding challenges

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      Two years ago, six ill-prepared University of British Columbia students got lost hiking out of the remote Hanes Valley in Lynn Headwaters Regional Park. They dialled 911 with a cellphone, and North Shore Rescue members flew in with a helicopter to retrieve them.

      “The rescue team had just a very small amount of daylight to get those guys off the mountain,” Melanie Wood, director and cowriter of “Risk and Rescue”, told the Georgia Straight by phone from her Vancouver home. “They had enough to make two trips in. And it was just really interesting to see how fast and efficiently they worked to get to those guys.”

      The 2013 incident is just one of those featured in Wood’s film about NSR, the storied search-and-rescue team that’s marking its 50th year. On Friday (February 13), the 26-minute documentary will have its world premiere on the opening night of the 18th annual Vancouver International Mountain Film Festival.

      Mike Danks has been involved with NSR for 19 years, and he took over as team leader after long-time head Tim Jones died of a heart attack in 2014. The firefighter told the Straight the film shows the “very high impact” of search and rescue on volunteers’ families.

      “I think a lot of people don’t realize that we’re actually unpaid volunteers,” Danks said by phone from his North Vancouver home. “When we get these calls, it takes us away from family time with our wives, with our children, with our parents—you name it.”

      North Shore Rescue volunteers pose for a picture with their late team leader, Tim Jones.

      On opening night, the VIMFF Community Award will honour Jones. Danks hopes “Risk and Rescue” will be the “catalyst” for corporations and the provincial government to provide stable sources of funding for NSR’s work.

      “Tim was a huge advocate for search and rescue,” Danks said. “He isn’t here anymore, and we have been left with a very large void to fill.”

      Wood trained in avalanche and rope rescue with NSR while working on the film. She noted she both loved and hated those experiences, which were enough to make her briefly consider becoming a search-and-rescue volunteer.

      “They’re an amazing group of people who dedicate a lot of their time to really what I came to understand is very technically skilled, highly trained work,” Wood said.

      NSR also figured prominently in “To the Rescue”, a 2014 CBC documentary directed by Wood that looked at the patchwork search-and-rescue system in Canada. The filmmaker hopes viewers will be “highly entertained by the action” in “Risk and Rescue”.

      “As well as that, I hope they take away that sense of excitement at being in the wilderness but also understand that they do have some responsibility for making sure they can get themselves out safely,” Wood said. “And then the other side of that is to not be afraid to go and have fun but also understand that the people like North Shore Rescue, that are responsible for saving you if there is a need, they need to be supported.”

      Trailer for VIMFF 2015.

      “Risk and Rescue” screens Friday (February 13) at the Centennial Theatre (2300 Lonsdale Avenue, North Vancouver) as part of the Vancouver International Mountain Film Festival.