Outdoor Education Hosts Annual Banff Film Festival World Tour at Hamilton Movie Theater

The Hamilton Movie Theatre main auditorium was nearly filled to capacity on the evening of Wednesday, Feb. 16, for the annual Banff Centre Mountain Film Festival, put on by Colgate University’s Outdoor Education program and featuring seven critically acclaimed outdoor and environmental short films. 

The film festival is a celebration of mountain culture that promotes the understanding and appreciation of the world’s outdoor spaces by giving people the opportunity to share their experiences and inspire others through film. The film programs tour throughout Canada, the United States, and over 40 other countries, focusing on mountain photography, literature, and film, and the festival takes pride in providing a forum for people to express their passions through different mediums. The films range from various lengths and cover a wide range of subjects and viewpoints.  

Heidi Riley, Assistant Director of Outdoor Education at Colgate helped to organize the event, and brought the film festival to Hamilton. She explained that Colgate Outdoor Education has been a stop on the Banff Mountain Film Festival World Tour for many years, hosting the event annually in mid-February. 

“Banff is important for students because it demonstrates a wide variety of ways that people connect with land and tells stories of how they experience their own identities in it” Riley said. “Whether the films are mostly for fun or if they lean toward the more serious side, they tell stories about nuanced individuals doing something they love and reflecting authentically on it. It doesn’t hurt that the filming is beautiful too.”

The short films included were “A Dog’s Tale” by Darren McCullough, which was from the perspective of dogs running through mountain biking trails. The beautiful slow-motion shots and forest scenery emphasized the emotions of feeling free in our environment. Other films included “Can’t Beat this Place for Fun” by Dawn Kish, followed a water boat shop in flagstaff Arizona. The workers displayed their love and passion for making boats, the importance of respecting history, tradition and environmental activism.

 “There are different ways we experience the land. Some of us use it as a fun place to recreate, some of us use it as refuse or calm, some of us use it as a challenge, some of us see it as mythical or spiritual, and some of us think of it as a place we live, and I think these films encapsulate all of that,” Riley said.  

The 2021 Audience Choice Award Winner documentary, Precious Leader Woman, was also a part of the film festival. The film follows the story of Spencer O’Brien, the world-renowned snowboarder who placed 12th at the 2014 Sochi Olympics and shocked fans who expected her to win gold. However, few people knew that Spencer was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis which impacted her ability to compete. The film documents O’Brien’s connection with her Indigenous roots of her Haida and Kwakwaka’waka heritage, embracing her cultural identity and finding purpose and healing in her environment. Director Cassie De Colling also includes shots of the alpine scenery and footage of snowboarding footage. 

Junior Sam Markowitz, a former competitive skier himself, described the film as both deep and powerful.

“These films really go to show how all these activities are more than just skiing or snowboarding; it’s the life [of these athletes].”

The beauty of nature and the urgency of environmental preservation emerged as common themes throughout the films. Sophomore Robyn Landes’ biggest takeaway from the event was related to this.

“Everyone connects with their environment in unique ways and has a different reason for why they enjoy spending time outside. It reinforced the importance of finding what you love to do outside and being a part of something bigger than yourself through the outdoors,” Landes said. 

Other films featured in the event included “Breaking Trail”, directed by Jesse Roesler, which follows Emily Ford who sets out on a journey to hike the Ice Age National Scenic Hiking Trail in the middle of winter with only her sled dog for company.

“The films are all good, but that one was truly next level,” Riley said. 

Banff drew in a large crowd of adults, students ranging from elementary to college level and families with children. The excited and lively crowd also took part in a raffle during intermission sponsored by Outdoor Education. Riley believed the event and turnout was ‘successful,’ and Outdoor Education has plans to host the film festival again next year. 

One film, “INSIDE – A Hole New Ski Experience,” particularly drew the attention of locals. Two Hamilton residents noted that this movie was their favorite because it was the funniest. Unlike the rest of the films, this one had little explicit connection to environmental conservation and social justice, and was also the only film produced by non-Americans. It told the short voyage through a mountain cave from the perspective of free-riders Stefan Ager and Andreas Gumpenberger. This momentous journey was intermittent with humorous sound bites of the two reflecting and commenting on the seemingly-extreme expedition in the comfort of a movie theater.

For sophomore Eric Barber, the most significant impact of the event was the personal reflection watching the films fostered.

“I feel like at college there’s so much pressure to find a career that will make you good money or make you ‘successful’ and I feel like this often leaves little room for your passions. You could tell that the dories (the boats) that those people made had so much love put into them, and this really stuck with me. The films expose viewers to cultures which they may be unfamiliar with or have misunderstandings about and allows the filmmakers to present themselves under their own terms. They’re all also just really inspiring” Barber said.