Friday, November 09, 2007

Books to Read, Films to See

I served on the jury for the Banff Mountain Book Awards this fall, and for the most part it was a real pleasure. Considering my line of work, I don’t read all that many climbing books. In my off hours, I tend to prefer non-mountaineering subjects; the last Everest book I read was Into Thin Air. And so it was great to be forced into reading a wide range of new mountain books. I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed these, including several new works about Everest, a subject that would seem to offer no new ground whatsoever.

You can see which books we selected for prizes here. Among them, my favorite was Stephen Venables’ Higher Than the Eagle Soars, which, despite its hackneyed title, is a superb book. It’s not really great literature (though it won our votes in the Mountain Literature category), but it’s a damn good read, especially for American readers, who likely haven’t followed Venables’ career as closely as the Brits have. Mostly, I appreciated Venables' ability to express his great love of being out in the mountains, which shines through these stories despite some truly miserable experiences. Throughout I was reminded of Mallory’s quote: “What we get from these adventure is just sheer joy.”

I saw quite a few films in Banff, but only a couple stood out. One was King Lines, the new Josh Lowell and Peter Mortimer film about Chris Sharma. This film raises the bar for rock climbing movies by many notches, with superb camera work and production, and a decent story line. And it doesn’t hurt that Sharma is an extraordinarily charismatic individual, though I did tire of his martial-arts screams on every hard move. It made me wonder what he sounds like when…well, never mind.

Unfortunately, I missed the film getting the most buzz at Banff: 20 Seconds of Joy, about the Norwegian B.A.S.E. jumper Karina Hollekim. From what I heard, this is a must-see—it won both the Best Film on Mountain Sports and the People’s Choice awards, and people couldn't stop talking about it.

I did see and will highly recommend another winner, Nine Winters Old. This beautifully shot film is a love story about winter and snow. In it’s pace and style, it’s the anti–Warren Miller movie, and maybe you have to be in the right mood for it to hit the mark, but it’s hard to imagine someone who loves skiing not loving this movie.

I’ve now been on a book jury (Banff) and a film jury (Vancouver), and on the whole I’d say the film gig is way more fun. The book awards did force me to read a bunch of books I’d never have gotten to otherwise, and the discussions with fellow jury members Ed Douglas and Will Gadd were lively and interesting, but after a full work day of writing and editing it could be awfully hard to psyche up to read more mountain stories. On a film jury, well, you’re just watching movies, and when you get to the final round you hang out with other film people and (at least at Vancouver) drink beer while you’re doing it. Can’t beat that.

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