(Above: Margo Hayes in Reel Rock 12 Break on Through; photo by Greg Mionske)

By Sherri Buri McDonald

In the darkened auditorium, the film begins with a fast montage of mountain adventurers climbing, skiing, biking and kayaking. The rhythmic background music crescendoes as a deep, resonant male voice announces: “Welcome to the Banff Centre Mountain Film Festival.”

The audience applauds and cheers.

My husband, Matt, leans toward me and whispers in my ear, “We’re really here.”

After enjoying the annual Banff Centre Mountain Film Festival for many of the past 20 years as it toured through Eugene, Matt and I celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary in November by traveling to Alberta, Canada, to attend the Banff Centre Mountain Film and Book Festival in its original location.
Following a nine-day run each fall in Banff, a scenic town in the Canadian Rockies, the festival takes a pared-down selection of films to almost 600 locations in over 40 countries. It has already toured six Oregon cities and comes to Eugene April 24 and 25.

The festival’s longtime local host is the University of Oregon’s Outdoor Program, which started as a cooperative in 1967 and offers community outdoor adventures, events, gear rentals, and more. Details about tickets and show times in Eugene are online at https://calendar.uoregon.edu/event/banff_mt_film_festival_8294#.XLIqoa2ZNE4)

Outdoor Program Director Margaret Hoff advises buying tickets in advance.
“It’s been selling out every year for as long as people can remember,” she says.

The Outdoor Program worked with a film festival coordinator from Banff to select 16 films to be shown in Eugene. Eight will be shown each evening.

The films range from Choices, a two-minute, father-and-son mountain biking short, to a 40-minute excerpt of This Mountain Life, which tracks a mother and daughter on a six-month ski tour across British Columbia’s Coast Range.

When the festival launched 43 years ago, the films mostly documented daring adventures of white men from the United States and Europe. Through the years, they have become more inclusive, featuring more women, people of color, and people with disabilities.

The 2018 festival’s Grand Prize, for example, went to The Weight of Water, an inspiring film about blind adventurer Erik Weihenmayer’s attempts to kayak one of the Grand Canyon’s most challenging rapids.
(See trailer: https://vimeo.com/318359750)

“Our human connection to landscape supersedes gender, age and ancestry,” festival director Joanna Croston says. “In the last few years, adventure filmmakers have realized that there are many stories in the outdoors, and they have been answering the call to increase the diversity of voices in this genre.”

Through the years, my husband and I have enjoyed the festival as it stopped in Eugene, but we had always wanted to go to the source. We finally got our chance in November.

What has drawn us back year after year — first to a UO lecture hall and more recently to the McDonald Theatre in downtown Eugene — are harrowing wilderness adventures that inspire stories about people conquering fears and obstacles, plus the chance to glimpse inside remote mountain cultures.

As Oregonians with Mount Hood, the Three Sisters and other peaks in our collective backyards, we share a bond with residents of mountainous regions throughout the world.

In Banff, we filled our days chatting with friendly Canadians and other travelers and exploring the stunning Canadian Rockies and Lake Louise. Each night, we added to our archive of incredible mountain stories.

Watching The Dawn Wall, winner of Best Feature Mountain Film, we saw Tommy Caldwell transform from an awkward kid with a love of rock climbing into one of the world’s preeminent climbers. We learned of the challenges he overcame to tackle this seemingly impossible section of the 3,000-foot-tall El Capitan in California’s Yosemite National Park.
(See trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Hc8tB9uhho)

In 2000, Caldwell was barely out of his teens when he and three other young climbers were taken captive by rebels in the central Asian country of Kyrgizstan. He seized the opportunity to shove the group’s armed guard off a mountain ledge, freeing the climbers.

That traumatic incident didn’t stop him from rock climbing. (Nor did a home-improvement accident in which he severed his left index finger with a table saw.)

The Dawn Wall, at 100 minutes long, isn’t one of the films that will be shown in Eugene, although it is available on Amazon Prime Netflix and YouTube. But many others are, including This Mountain Life.
(See trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h0ErxWfhyVs)

This Canadian film won Best Film — Snow Sports, and the excerpt on tour follows a mother and daughter who ski across the Coast Mountains from Squamish, British Columbia, to Skagway, Alaska.

After the showing in Banff, the mother, Tania Halik, a tough-as-nails 60-year-old paramedic and ski instructor, took questions. In the early 1980s, she had escaped, pregnant and on foot, from Czechoslavakia to Switzerland and eventually immigrated to Canada.

Halik said the six-month ordeal strengthened her bond with her daughter. But she added wryly that when her daughter despaired, she’d think to herself, “Suck it up, princess!”

There’s nothing like watching people formulate a dream and, through preparation and sheer grit, achieve the seemingly impossible.

Viewers will find themselves returning to these stories, tapping them for the inspiration and strength to conquer their own mountains.

Banff Centre Mountain Film Festival’s world tour stops in Eugene

When: Wednesday and Thursday, April 24-25; doors open 6 p.m., films run 7 p.m. to 10 p.m.

Where: McDonald Theatre, 1010 Willamette St., Eugene

Tickets: In advance, $15 general, $11 for UO students; at the door, $16 general, $15 for UO students; tickets available at UO ticket office in the Erb Memorial Union at 1395 University St. on the UO campus, and at sponsoring businesses REI, Crosscountry Gear and Tactics Board Sports

Information: UO Outdoor Program, 541-346-4365

Additional Oregon stop: April 27-28 in Bend, at the Tower Theatre; sponsored by Friends of Realms, friendsofrealms@gmail.com

Trailer for Banff Mountain Film Festival World Tour: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t3KrMH57Sl4

This mountain scene is a signature photograph of the Banff Centre Mountain Film Festival, used on posters and in guidebooks; it is the work of photographer Ben Tibbetts