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Monday, November 07, 2005

Report from Banff (Final)

Movie time. Among the films I saw on Saturday were three that featured good footage of alpine climbing—in two cases hard alpine climbing. This is quite rare: It’s damned hard to shoot film in an alpine environment, in the dark, in storm, under pressure to keep moving.

In his “Harvest Moon,” about a new route on India’s Thalay Sagar, Rob Frost climbed with the four-man Swiss team and documented their progress as they climbed, then captured close-up footage of hard ice and rock climbing from above by cajoling the climbers into releading a few pitches as they rappelled the route. Knowing they were on their way home makes the scene of one climber being nailed with a fire hose of spindrift while climbing steep ice all the more impressive. It’s amazing he even agreed to do it: This is posing, but it's a far cry from a swimsuit-model shoot.

“Sur le fil des 4000” documents French climbers Patrick Bérhault and Philippe Magnin’s fantastic and visionary attempt to link all 82 of the Alps' 4,000-meter summits, in winter conditions, without any breaks or motorized assistance. Bérhault fell and died three-quarters of the way through the project, and the film is a moving tribute to the great alpinist. Director Gilles Chappaz solved the problems of shooting in this environment by covering some tough climbs near huts, where he could set up in relative comfort, by equipping the climbers with a small camera for remote peaks, technical routes and stormy days, and by doing the occasional helicopter fly-by. It’s cool to see how quickly and confidently these two move over the sort of moderate ice, mixed ground and fourth-class and low fifth-class terrain that comprises so much of alpine climbing but is rarely compelling in film.

My favorite film on Saturday was “Passe-moi les jumelles: Le Clocher du Portalet," by Pierre-Antoine Hiroz. This one tells the story of two great modern Swiss climbers, Didier Berthod and Simon Anthamatten, free-climbing a 40-year-old aid route under the curious and appreciative gaze of the route’s pioneers, Michel Darbellay and Michel Vaucher, two great Swiss climbers of a prior generation. (Darbellay was first to solo the Eiger's North Face.) The older climbers’ commentary and the interplay between the two generations is heartfelt and filled with mutual respect; it’s clear that a passion for climbing unites all four. This is an understated yet powerful 15-minute film that will be hard to see in the U.S. unless the Banff organizers send it on tour. I hope they do—I’d like to see it again.

Quote of the day: In “Grand Canyon Dreams,” Will Gadd’s short film about paragliding across the Grand Canyon, Gadd initially plans to hang onto a three-wheeled, motorized glider until it reaches sufficient altitude above the canyon rim, whereupon he will jump off. Will doesn’t seem too happy about clinging to one side of this absurdly small and flimsy-looking contraption, and he says so to its pilot, Chris Santacroce, who replies: “Just hang on. You’re a fucking rock climber."

I didn't see the second day of films, but I learned this morning that "Sur le fils des 4000" won the grand prize last night. You can read about all of the prize-winning films at the Banff Mountain Film Festival web site.

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