Cameron Shook

Banff Mountain Film Festival

Cameron Shook
Banff Mountain Film Festival

St. Patricks Day weekend isn’t exactly my favorite time to walk downtown Charlotte, and I never have a favorite time to walk into a group of high-class people while wearing shorts and flip flops. I braved both though to make it to the Annual Banff Mountain Film Festival stop in Charlotte, at the McGlohon Theater owned and operated by the Blumenthal Performing Arts center. I made the mistake of thinking it was being held at the main center, and the security guard in the nice suit quickly corrected my error since the only events going on there were Cinderella and a classical music number. 2 blocks later, and I was with my people, in shorts, Chaco’s, and humorous T-Shirts.

The Banff Mountain Film Festival is an annual event held at the Banff Mountain Center in Canada. Film makers from all over the world submit their films to be judged, and the finalists and crowd favorite films are taken on a tour around the world. In the past, I’ve only attended their Radical Reels segment which is the more adventurous of the 2 segments; this World Tour segment is more focused on Mountain Culture and overall story telling. Instead of seeing huge mountain bike crashes, you see interesting stories and people. Below is the breakdown of the movies presented that night (they change from stop to stop) and my reviews of each. Please note my own title for each of the films; if you ever ask me about them in person, that’ the name I’ll most likely refer to them as.


Crazy Swedes in Wingsuits
(Split of a Second)

This short video was about one man’s journey of living life to the fullest by throwing himself off tall mountains while wearing a wingsuit. If you’re unfamiliar with wingsuits, imagine a human wearing a nylon suit that made him look like flying squirrel, and that’s pretty much it. It’s definitely impressive, flying only 30’ from the ground at 80 miles an hour, but is mostly filled with the normal “I can only enjoy life by pushing the envelope” that adrenaline junkie talk.
2 out of 5 stars

The Hilarious Old Lady with an Odd Sense of Duty
(Keeper of the Mountains)

Elizabeth Hawley, age 89, is the keeper of the single largest repository of expedition history in the Himalayas. Since the early 60s (the decade; not her age), she’s chronicled the success, failure, routes, equipment, and members of almost every Everest expedition. She has never climbed any large mountain, and doesn’t even like the outdoors: she said this was simply the most interesting job as a reporter she’d ever had. She also takes great joy, despite her disinterest in climbing a mountain herself, in helping other expeditions get to the top, and ripping to shreds anyone who disagrees with her. At various points, her scathing wit and satire leave even hardened expedition leaders running with their tails tucked between their legs.

4 out of 5 stars.

Crazy Norwegians Surfing in the Artic Winter
(North of the Sun)

This was by far the most lauded film, winning multiple awards at Banff including the Grand Prize, the People’s Choice Award, and others. The premise is very simple and without pretense: two good friends found a world class set of waves in a remote bay north of the Artic circle. With nothing better to do, they decide to spend the winter in the bay surfing and surviving in a small hut built out of the flotsam that washed ashore and food thrown away by grocery stores. Now, remember, this is north of the Artic circle…in winter…and they’re surfing. They don’t take themselves seriously, but what they’re able to accomplish is rather impressive; it’s also an amazing piece of cinematography with great humor throughout.

5 out of 5 stars

Blind Kayaker
(Sensory Overload)

Eric Weihenmayer is a famous adventurer who has done many things blind that people with sight haven’t been able to do: climb Mount Everest, ice climb challenging routes, and compete in adventure races. He decided all of that was too easy though so he decided to take up whitewater kayaking. As you can imagine, it’s more than a wee bit insane and even he admits that. He can only navigate rapids by having a team mate go behind him and shout instructions on how to paddle. This is about one man’s quest to never be held back despite his lack of sight.

3 out of 5 stars

Nerdy Mountain Biking Video
(Elements of Freeride)

Bluntly, this was a normal mountain biking video where occasionally the genus and species of flora and fauna would come up to show the “elements”. Yawn. The mountain biking was good at least.

3 out of 5 stars.

Kayak Free Kayaking
(Kayak Free Kayaking)

The funniest short film by far, one man attempts to find the purity of kayaking by stripping away all of the unnecessary gear. In this case, he was able to kayak without the kayak. Like some SNL skits, the joke got repetitive after about 3 minutes, but it’s only a 4 minute, 32 second video.

3 out of 5 stars

People Kind of Suck
(I Am Red)

The Colorado River is one of the most endangered waterways in North America, and is one depended on by more people in the West than any other. “I Am Red” very quickly shows you the grandeur of it’s natural beauty and the filth and destruction that humanity has brought upon it. By the end of the video, you’re planning better ways to recycle and conserve water.
4 out of 5 stars

Dude Getting Older

Slowing down has nothing to do with age, but everything to do with attitude. As the protagonist of this short film is turning 35, it shows how he’s living his life to maximize experiences and not his 401k. Out of all the videos that were shown this year, this was the one that made me want to quit my job and live out of the back of a truck the most.

4 out of 5 stars.

Ecuadorians Love Their Ice
(The Last Ice Merchant)

For generations in Ecuador, there have been ice merchants; intrepid merchants who climbed high on the slopes of glaciers, breaking off large slabs of ice and bringing them down for sale down in the towns below. Once refrigerators became more common, the number of ice merchants has dwindled down to only a single merchant who still climbs the glaciers. While normally this is lamented as first-world influence and technology destroying local culture and tradition, the brothers of the last ice merchant disagree and almost condemn their brother for sticking to the old ways. By far more informative and interesting than anything on The Learning Channel, it’s an interesting glimpse into another way of life.  
5 out of 5 stars

All of these videos can be found on the Banff website and links to where they can be watched are there as well. Instead of killing an entire season of your favorite TV show on Netflix, hopefully these films will get you through the April Showers that are sure to keep us indoors for at least one weekend.


Amish in the sense that, at one point, my family helped others raise barns.
Now I build websites to help others build their businesses.