Dizzyingly high above the pines of Yosemite, we watch as Mayan Smith-Gobat and Libby Sauter ascend The Nose on El Capitan to break a speed record, captured in four minutes of beautiful footage. Earlier into the program, staring into the blue abyss of an Icelandic iceberg moulin, we see Rahel Schelb ice climbing, a sport relatively few women have attempted. “If it means I’m the only girl, that’s okay. I don’t mind,” she said. “Being out there … That’s all what it’s about.”
These two films, made by Californian filmmakers — Women’s Speed Ascent and Climbing Ice — exemplify what’s new at the Banff Mountain Film Festival, which returns for its 25th year of Santa Barbara screenings, as presented by UCSB Arts & Lectures. The world-touring version of the festival, which is now in its 40th year, has become a Santa Barbara institution. Just one week after SBIFF departs town, the two-night event will once again cull the best from the high peaks of Banff, Canada’s outdoor film selection, in a program of mostly short-length features.
Though the festival has always strove to highlight the experiences of women outdoors, the showing has been stronger than ever in this and more recent years, said A&L associate director and festival organizer Roman Baratiak. Films like the aforementioned pieces, as well as others — such as Operation Moffat, about Britain’s first female mountain guide, or Natasha Brooks’s Bluehue, about swimming naked in the lakes of Snowdonia — show the outdoors “is not just for white guys,” Baratiak said. The outdoor-film genre is expanding and diversifying as a whole, he added, with more films from China and elsewhere expected in the coming years.
Another new trend in recent years is the use of digital cameras such as GoPros, which allow for innovative, never-before-seen approaches to outdoor filmmaking. The Rocky Mountains Traverse is one such movie. The film follows two paragliders as they attempt to fly across 700 kilometers of the Canadian Rockies. Outdoor films have “really changed,” Baratiak said, in the way these technologies have allowed viewers “the sense of being right there with a person, and the professionalism has gone way up, too.”
The Banff Mountain Film Festival received close to 1,000 submissions this year, said Baratiak, with more and more folks having the ability to document their adventures. Baratiak visited the two-week iteration of the festival, which took place last fall and also doubled as a book festival, to scope out the selection material. Out of nearly 100 films, he pared it down to two nights’ worth of 17 films. “I put together a schedule that’s going to be varied and interesting for people with different kinds of interests,” he said.
The Arlington will play host to the festival for its sixth year; before, UCSB’s Campbell Hall was the chosen venue. Baratiak said he never expected the festival to have grown as much as it has, going from “400-something” people in its beginnings to more than 4,000.
Although the film landscape continues to evolve, what has remained unchanged is the “wildly enthusiastic” Santa Barbara audiences, Baratiak said. The visiting Canadian tour hosts are “always just amazed at how enthusiastic the crowds are,” he said. “There are people who have come when they were kids, and now they’re parents coming with their kids … it’s just a great coming together of the adventure community of S.B.”
UCSB Arts & Lectures presents the Banff Mountain Film Festival World Tour February 23-24 at 7:30 p.m., at the Arlington Theatre (1317 State St.). For tickets and more information, call (805) 893-3535 or visit artsandlectures.sa.ucsb.edu.