Straight Outta Banff...

Al Lee on the Banff Festival, another Asgard award and a stuffed goat...

Posted: 16 November 2010
by Alastair Lee
Al Lee collects the award for Best Climbing Film at this year's Banff Festival. He still has no idea what the stuffed goat was all about though.

Award-winning film maker Alastair Lee is just back from the legendary Banff Mountain Film Festival and another award for his stunning Asgard Project film, he took time out from editing to share his experience of the legendary Canadian mountain blow-out.

When it comes to mountain film festivals they don't come any more mountainous than Banff. It has the most coveted of coveted awards, the best facilities, friendliest staff and the setting in the heart of the Rockies is hard to beat. I'd been asked to come over to Banff to introduce my film 'The Asgard Project' which had headline billing on the Friday night in the 'Eric Harvey Theatre'.

Now this is just about as impressive a theatre as you could ask for, it seats 1200 incredibly 'up for it' Canadians, projects on a massive screen in HD and the sound is fantastic. Not only this but impressively I didn't see one technical hitch in four days of watching film, that might sound like par for the course however a quick tour around some of the other world's mountain film festivals and you'll soon appreciate that this is the exception!

Lecturing The Random Way

It was an honour to go over and introduce the film and whilst I was there I suggested I do a lecture, the main lecture shots were all gone however as I had my Lakes book 'Lake District - Mountain Landscape' in the book festival as well they gave me a slot to do a show in the book festival. It looked like the graveyard shift being 10am on a Thursday morning.

I was so busy getting my new film 'The Prophet' ready for Kendal, I'd done absolutely no preparation for the Banff lecture. So I rocked up on the Thursday morning and much to my surprise the place was buzzing and the 'Max Bell' theatre was packed to the rafters as nearly 300 people gathered to hear what I had to say about my book. I pulled one of my old shows about film making and photography off the laptop and winged it big style. It really couldn't have gone any better, they laughed and groaned in all the right places and now has me questioning whether preparing for a show in the future is really a good idea or not. I suppose I was borrowing heavily from all those years of lecturing to get away with it like I did at Banff. Somehow it was better for it that I didn't quite know what was coming next, kept the atmosphere really fresh..

Anyway the book festival was pretty cool, whilst my book got short listed it didn't win, a book called 'Polar Obsession' got best mountain image and having had a flick through it by my own admission a much worthier winner, it was pretty incredible. Also great to see Dean Fidelman and John Long's classic mix of old photos from the Yosemite 70's scene and essay style writing scoop not only best book on mountain history but the grand prize too. Now that is a forward thinking jury who understands what a mountain festival is all about.

Narrative, Smarrative...

Then to the film festival itself, we started with 'The Snow Show' on Thurs night where despite the whole of the Banff campus seemly dead the theatre was packed out as 1200 people sat mesmerised by some of the finest ski porn ever made - 'film making is all about narrative' somebody once told me, well try telling that to this crowd. When the images are so mind blowing and the editing slick and inventive with a kicking sounds track you will have people glued to the spot gazing at the screen in awe, inspired to get out and there was not a sniff of a plot line, objective or story. Smarrative.

Other highlights included 'Crossing the Ditch' (which went on to win best adventure film) about two young Australians who make the first ever 'kayak' across the Tasman sea - 'the ditch'. And while you could question whether or not that thing which look more akin to a boat with seats than a kayak was actually a kayak, it was certainly a thrilling adventure and sucked you into the emotional tempest the duo's close friends and family had to deal with whilst they were, well, all at sea. And while I think they were lucky and it didn't really compare to the harrowing 'Solo' featuring Andrew McAuley's fateful attempt at the same crossing (no debating as to whether he was in a kayak or not though) when they got to the other side I felt a great rush of emotion and had an uncontrollable smile across my face.

US film-making legend Pete Mortimer chipped in with his usual mix of stunning camerawork, slick editing and heart stopping action with 'Swiss Machine' and 'Fly or Die' (both on at Kendal this year) others to grab the attention were 'Salt', 'Last Paradise' and 'Life Cycles', which is a bit like Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, but on mountain bikes.

Then on the Friday night I had to get up and introduce my film 'The Asgard Project' where I replicated the same set of jokes I'd served up at the book festival, but no-one seemed to notice as the roof came off, the tabloid press were mercilessly lambasted and I eloquently prove that Leo Houlding is in fact superhuman and anyone requiring basics like food and water had better not get in his way.

Timmy Rocks!

The best 'live' event I saw was Timmy O'Neil on the Saterday night where he had a whole bar set up on stage, he played the witty barman and Alex Honnald and Peter Croft sat at the bar, there were also groups of Timmy's mates at each end of the stage sat at tables getting increasingly drunk. It sounds mad and it was but it worked almost perfectly. The first 15 minutes were side splitting and Timmy did suceed in getting some interesting stuf out of two of the world's greatest free soloists, but really I think I just wanted to here Timmy tell jokes and be funny! Timmy is on at Kendal this Sat, recommended.

All in all,  it's a long way to go, further than Kendal for example, but there's no denying the quality of the Banff festival and how well you are looked after, there seemed to be a free food and beer function on nearly every night, but I managed to go to them all. Then on the Sunday the whole thing is nicely rounded off by the awards ceremony where much to my delight I managed to pick up the most coveted of prestigious awards 'Best Climbing Film' where for some reason the representative from the Canadian Alpine Club came on stage with a stuffed goat. Bizarre, but very very funny at the time, still not sure why.

You can find Alastair's web site at

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Alastair Lee, Banff

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