Long and Short of It
The Banff Mountain Film Festival showcases 10 films about outdoor adventurers and how they use nature to make sense of it all.
Thursday, March 1, 2012
Australian Tim Cope is three years into a journey that has taken him by horse from Mongolia to Hungary. Cope, who never rode a horse before this trip, set out to follow in the footsteps of Mongol warriors led by Genghis Khan across the Eurasian continent in the 13th century. When buying his four-legged transports from Mongolian horsemen, the locals teased him, saying that white men can’t ride horses. Over 6,000 miles later, Cope might beg to differ.
Cope’s On the Trail of Genghis Khan is this year’s winner of the Banff Mountain Film Festival’s People’s Choice Award. It’s also one of 10 short films showing at the Golden State Theater this Friday, March 2, as part of the Banff Mountain Film Festival World Tour. REI Marina and CSUMB’s Return of the Natives co-host the evening, with proceeds going to the Return of the Natives program.
Alone for the majority of the trip, save his horses, a trusty dog named Tigon, and the friends he makes along the way, Cope is his own director and star, as he covers the sparsely populated steppes and mountain ranges of central Asia and eastern Europe.
“I’ve thrown away the shackles of time, pressure, and plans, and adjusted to what the environment dictates,” Cope says. “Time is measured in the abundance of water; the lack of grass; the heat; the cold.” Only a series of maps guide him from Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, to Opusztaszer, Hungary. He leaves Mongolia without a firearm to protect from wolves, bears or thieves, saying he trusts in the better side of human nature.
At one point the film’s narrator says, “For Australian Tim Cope, adventure is all about connecting with people and lands that he travels to.” On this trip, speaking Russian fluently helps, as he encounters villagers in the Carpathian Mountains of the Ukraine. In one village a romantic connection can be detected between Cope and the village priest’s niece, while in another, after a mid-day vodka drinking session with his hosts, he passes out half in and half out of his tent.
Cope isn’t a drinker, but admits, “Sometimes you have to take a few shots of vodka to make sense of the world around you… In the right company, it feels right to just surrender.”
Ultimately it’s hard not to get choked up in the human drama at the end of Cope’s epic. Another film in Banff’s Monterey screening also pulls at the heartstrings. Only in Reel Rock Origins: Obe and Ashima, the distances covered are measured in vertical feet, not miles.
In producing and directing Obe and Ashima, Josh Lowell says he wanted to make a climbing film that resonates not only with climbers but a larger general audience.
He succeeds. His star, Ashima Shiraishi, and her coach, former pro rock climber Obe Carrion, help push the sport of bouldering – rock climbing without ropes, with the climber typically staying no more than 20 feet off the ground – to a new level.
In the film, Shiraishi trains in her rock gym in Manhattan, competes and wins at a bouldering competition in Colorado, and climbs outdoors at a mecca for the sport: Hueco Tanks, Texas. Although Carrion says, “Ashima is stone-faced; she’s completely focused. She’s in the game for one thing, and that’s to win,” she expresses a vibrant innocence when asked about rock climbing. At the age of 6, when she saw people rock climbing for the first time, in New York’s Central Park, she says, “It was the coolest thing ever.”
At the mature age of 9, she is now climbing bouldering routes that, according to Lowell, only a few hundred men in the world can climb. At Hueco Tanks, Ashima’s first legitimate climbing trip away from New York City, she climbs, falls off of, retries and finishes (or “sends”) routes rated V10-V12. By comparison, an average non-climber might struggle on a V1-rated boulder problem.
“Ninety-nine percent of bouldering is failure,” Carrion says. “My job is to guide Ashima through that… I’ve seen a lot of talent burn out because of the pressure and I don’t want that to happen to Ashima.”
The other eight films are as different as Genghis and Ashima are from one another. Blue Obsession offers stunning cinematography that documents treacherous ice climbing in Alaska’s rapidly shifting glacier fields. Seasons – Fall, is an ultra-short kayaking film that is shot, edited and scored so tightly the effect is nothing less than poetic.
The films aren’t just for adrenaline junkies. They show that no matter how long or short the journey, finding a personal connection with the land can tap seemingly limitless potential in us all.
Cope neatly sums up this effect, and what his trek did for him.
“I’ve refound my inspiration for life,” he says.
THE BANFF MOUNTAIN FILM FESTIVAL rolls 7pm (doors open 6:30pm) Friday, March 2, at the Golden State Theatre, 417 Alvarado St, Monterey. $17/REI members; $20/general. Tickets at REI Marina or 883-8048.