Alan Formanek fell in love with climbing while growing up in Bratislava in what was then known as Czechoslovakia. He especially liked hiking with his parents in the High Tatras, which is Slovakia’s tallest mountain range.
“I was always dreaming of trying to live abroad,” Formanek tells the Straight by phone. “But that was difficult behind the Iron Curtain under a Communist regime.”
In those days, Bratislava was surrounded by factories spewing polluted air. No matter which way the wind was blowing, he would breathe it in whenever he was outside in the city. He dreamed of living in Canada, where he could experience incredible rock climbing in a pristine environment.
Formanek finally managed to achieve this after the fall of the Iron Curtain, moving to B.C. with his young family in 1992. He studied comparative literature and film at UBC for seven years, focusing on Italian, French, and Spanish cinema. At UBC, he deepened his affection for movies set in the mountains.
He also continued climbing.
“I specialized in big walls in the Apps or the Dolomites or the Rocky Mountains,” Formanek says.
In 1998, Formanek combined his two passions—climbing and motion pictures—into the inaugural Vancouver International Mountain Film Festival.
“There are mountain-film festivals in many other countries,” Formanek acknowledges. “The genre itself was born in Italy.”
The early years of his festival were tough. Filmmakers would mail or courier VHS versions, which had to be copied or watched by the entire VIMFF team together. Once these films were approved, the director or producer then had to send a higher-quality beta-cam version. Sometimes they arrived late.
Formanek says that with technological improvements, including film-submission software and digital movies, it became easier to preview more films. Links could be provided to those vetting the selections. And nowadays, there is no shortage of supply.
“It’s much easier to make films in difficult conditions,” Formanek says. “Before, to make a film on Mount Everest was a huge venture to carry all the film up. Now you can have a cellphone or a small camera and get great resolution.”
This year marks the 25th anniversary of the Vancouver International Mountain Film Festival, which will feature more than 50 films in a hybrid festival. From February 25 to March 6, there will be 20 in-theatre screenings and workshops at the Centennial Theatre, Kay Meek Arts Centre, Presentation House Theatre, Rio Theatre, and Brewhall.
On opening night at the Centennial, VIMFF will screen the world premiere of “Njord”, about two explorers travelling 1,000 kilometres during the polar winter, and the world premiere of “Originate//Symbiosis”, featuring skier Michelle Parker heading to the Fairy Creek blockade.
The other opening-night films are the skydiving-recovery story “Sixty Seconds” and B.C. filmmaker Jay Macmillan’s “Sonder”, in which he retraces his parents’ travels in Nepal before they died in a landslide there.
VIMFF movies are online from February 25 to March 27, either individually or with a $90 online film pass providing access to all of them.
According to Formanek, contemporary mountain films are focusing far more attention on human angles, including mental health.
“It’s less about the super-great achievements and more of the actual stories of people suffering and then accomplishing something,” he says.