Bringing Back Banff

Conflict Tiger

A documentary directed by Sasha Snow; Asiemut, a
documentary directed by Olivier Higgins and Mélanie Carrier. Part
of the Best of the 31st Annual Banff Mountain Film Festival, which
screens on Tuesday, February 20, and Wednesday, February 21, at
UCSB’s Campbell Hall.

Reviewed by Matt Kettmann

conflict_tiger.jpgMountainous wilderness has always
fascinated humankind, a species whose innate curiosity makes even
the most remote regions ripe for exploration. The Banff Mountain
Film Festival was started in 1976 as a testament to both that drive
and the inhabitable landscapes themselves, and we’ve been lucky to
enjoy a “Best Of” rundown every year at UCSB’s Campbell Hall. This
year’s offerings — six of which show next Tuesday, and seven more
on Wednesday — are strong as usual, ranging from extreme sport
trickery and orgiastic climbing footage to natural wonders such as
the merganser hen and Siberian tiger.

Considering the latter, the fest’s feature-length highlight
would certainly be the hour-long Conflict Tiger, a stirring,
suspenseful doc about Russia’s far eastern wilderness and the
growing confrontations between humans and the massive, predatory
feline. Since the fall of communism, those living outside Russia’s
rich cities have had to return to traditional hunting as a way to
survive and make extra cash. The Siberian tiger — whose populations
have been struggling in the overdeveloped Asian countryside — finds
itself hunting for the same prey in the same forests. Conflicts,
then, are growing. By blending endearing portraits of individuals,
insightful interviews with experts, and thrilling reenactments,
this doc traces a particular incident in which professional hunter
Yuri Trush, of the Conflict Tiger Team, must search out a tiger
that’s on a vengeful killing spree. This film, which is part of the
Wednesday grouping, is wilderness filmmaking at its very best.

Tuesday’s feature-length film is Asiemut, an hour-long,
did-it-themselves chronicle of one French-speaking couple’s
8,000-kilometer bicycle trek from Ulan Bator, Mongolia, to
Calcutta, India. The documentary mainly focuses on the front end of
the journey, through the stunning steppes of Mongolia, the
fascinating Silk Road culture clash of Xinjiang in western China,
and the mountainous terrain of Tibet. Using the ascent of Tibet’s
5,200-meter-high Nyalam Tonga La Pass as the film’s central
narration point, the lovey-dovey couple’s physical, mental, and
emotional limits are tested, resulting in philosophical ponderings
about being “between the crisis of abundance and the crisis of
famine” and learning that “finding one’s place isn’t always easy,
but we always find our place.” Take their internal discoveries or
leave them, but know the footage of these stark landscapes is alone
worth watching. It’s real-life adventure, an inspiration for the
rest of us to do the same. And after all, that’s the point of
Banff.

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