Scaling Events at VIMFF

The Vancouver International Mountain Film Festival, or VIMFF, is not a festival I or many others are familiar with. In fact, I’m not sure how many people are familiar with VIMFF. In fact, I’m not sure how many people are familiar with it, so I’ll get right into some backstory. VIMFF is a festival that showcases documentaries and features guests who talk about mountain activities, like outdoor sports and exploration. Pretty 73% of stuff I don’t really do myself. Alan Formanek, the founding director explained that VIMFF was started in 1998 to promote the quality of the amazing content and even more, the guest speakers as he believes people prefer to see live. A large majority of guest speakers are outdoorsmen and people who can really put on a presentation with great enthusiasm. Formanek felt that since there were lots of mountains in the city, that it would be a great place to host a festival about films with mountains. It was an interesting new taste of festival for me to check out and observe. I’ve seen a couple of these documentaries before, but never in a festival format.

Opening Night – A bit of a different type of opening compared to most festivals I’ve covered, VIMFF had merch tables set up all around the location for mountain gear, CLIF bars, and those little cards that offer discounts for your first visit to a local business. Another interesting thing was the wide spread of people who I have never met before. But then, I guess this community is kind of a different ball park. Now to move onto the short film screening. After plenty of mountain ads, and the very special Tim Jones Award being given to John Dudley for his contributions, came a collection of great short films. First was The Imaginary Line, which was about one of 2019’s biggest issues: A national state of emergency. Two teams come from opposite sides and create a slack line that goes over the southern border. It was insightful, crazy, and showed a rather daring method to connect two nations together between mountains. After came Shelma Jun’s Duality. Shelma started off with an opening speech explaining her backstory and her childhood, and even how she came up with The Women’s Climbing Festival. Her short film was similar in style of telling, but had a lot more different details, telling more about her story of climbing mountains in Korea, and how she identifies as Korean American. When asked about how she felt about the film premiering that night, Shelma explained, “It’s really exciting and kind of nerve-racking”. The film took 2 and a half weeks to shoot, got supported by Arcteryx, and shot with 4 crew members. For a short film only 7 minutes long, it really dived deep into someone’s identity. Next was This Land, (nothing to do with the song) which was the heartwarming and motivating story of Faith E. Briggs as she ran for 150 miles through 3 monuments which were pretty controversial in some public lands of the USA. Her story of her long journey was absolutely inspiring for women everywhere. Then came another interesting short film called Pacific Lines, featuring the young Angie Scarth-Johnson, one of the youngest rock-climbers I ever saw in my life. Cool and fun footage shows her adventures as she scales some of the most unforgiving looking mountains capes in the South Pacific. It’s amazing what some people can do at certain ages. Finally there was Banking on Bailey. This was a hilarious film that gave a feeling of community, featuring 17 residents in the little area of Banks in Idaho. It gets even more intense during the ending. I guess kayaking really picks up sometimes. Opening Night had great films, cool door prizes, and a community that really got together to enjoy the great outdoors… on the inside.

The River and The Wall – It’s another story about how the National State of Emergency affected people. A congressman, a ranger, an ecologist and two other people decide to journey along the Texas borderlands all the way from New Mexico to Mexico. They use many different modes of transportation to do so, including cycling, kayaking, hiking, and even horseback riding. Along the way, they come across construction of what could be a wall, risky terrains, and even some locals around the Mexican area. At the same time, the 5 friends share some of their origins and how they feel about the wall, saying how it won’t exactly solve much of anything or even be too possible. This was an educational and hilarious film to check out. I really got into it. 

Polar Journeys – A combination of both live presentation and some short films, Polar Journeys covered a couple different mediums. To start off, Alice Purdey gave a speech on her adventure through the High Arctic slowly expanded into film work. She explained her journey with a slideshow that not only had pictures, but also documentary style short films. On the journey, Alice and her friends discovered polars bears, lots of other kinds of wildlife, and plants. It was quite a presentation that showed senior citizens who don’t let their age ruin them and they can have a lot of fun in a big old icehole. They were a great team with a lot of skills who made many cool discoveries. Going further into this event was the showcase of two short films. The first was the Canadian of Iceolation, a short film about a couple who kayaked around the Antarctic oceans. Sophie and Ewan also set up camp on some of the icy terrain and talked about the experience of exploring the land and discovering animals. It was a beautiful narrative that had some stunning visuals. The final screening of the night was Myrtle Simpson: A Life On Ice. Alice and her friends weren’t the only ones to explore cold terrains for long periods of time. Myrtle told the story of her beginnings and then went into details about the best journey she took where she explored the polar ice cap that covered Greenland in 2017. She also described happiness as being with her family. There were some heartfelt bits, some funny bits, and plenty of inspirational and motivational quotes. Given how these people are doing no matter their age, I’d say this is something that provides hope for those looking to retire and start doing fun stuff.

UBC Ski Show – A short film showcase all about skiing. To start off everyone got treated to the super short short Good Morning, a film about a skier who skis off of roofs with the aid of his Red Bull Energy drink because Red Bull gives you wings. In other words, he skis like some kind of crazy animated character all around his village in France. Reminds me of an old cartoon from the 80s. Anyways, after that interesting and hilarious short film, Rueben Krabbe came up to speak about his very first time going out winter camping to get a photo of the Northern Lights taken. It was a very funny story as it drew quite some laughter from the audience. It’s amazing how a bad photo can actually be the best with just a little fixing. After that, the film Nebula played, featuring Rueben himself going on this trip and stressing out. The film seems chaotic at first with the relatable tension but it was also kind of humours along the way. A lot of dark visuals with minimal light, and a plot that was all about risks. Now for some other locations, let’s go to Lebanon with the film Peace Mountain. A great insightful look on skiing in a country like that. But the mountain isn’t always peaceful when you have to be warned about landmines or people from Israel shooting at you. Some of this was funny, and some of it pretty cool. Speaking of cool, I bet you didn’t know that people in wheelchairs ski too. I sure didn’t. The film Out On A Limb was an inspiring and creative work of art that proved anything is possible for anyone. Several subjects in wheelchairs using special skis zoom down hills and get to enjoy the times of their life while getting some real movement. I’ll bet Darren will want to try this out himself. Then the final film of the night was Call Me Crazy (given my experience, some people do). It talked about a great and determined man named Mike Wiggley as some of his closest friends shared their experiences of being with him and a funny story about his dedication in doing really intense stuff like skiing from out of a helicopter. However the film seemed to be told in such a calm manner.

The Weight of Water – A documentary about kayaking, but this one takes place around the Grand Canyon, one of the deepest places in all of the United States. Eric Weihenmayer and join with lots of other kayakers to take the most exciting journey. Something about this particular journey is the fact that Grand Canyon has so many rapids that one could wipe out unexpectedly. For 21 days, Eric navigates with the help of his friend Harlen who gives directions over a radio. The reason being is that Eric is blind. But he doesn’t let his lack of eyesight stop from doing exciting things. Crashing through large waves and maneuvering along rocky crevices, him and his buddies hope to make it all the way to Lava Falls, one of the more crazy places that few dare go. Eric also shares some stories about his other adventures including climbing Mount Everest, meeting another blind kayaker named Lonnie, and taking up wrestling in high school. Throughout the documentary, we also get treated to the intensity of the rapids, while staying dry.

Unlike some of the other films I saw that included kayaking, The Weight of Water actually had quite some more intense action shots with Eric and Lonnie paddling along. The shots of the Grand Canyon were quite scenic, and the narration really makes one understand how fun yet dangerous kayaking can be especially for anyone who’s blind. That’s certainly noticeable by the setup of go pros in this doc, but then I’ve known the risks of kayaking given the TV I watched as a kid. Back then were simpler times before the Kratt brothers became cartoons.

Feel The Wild – How about a feel for wildlife? What’s it like when you’re a guest in the animal’s home/village? For starters, it’s not easy to adjust to for any species. Man is unfamiliar and always fumbling around given the grounds, and any animal living out there never knows when an uninvited guest comes around for recreational purposes. There wasn’t a whole lot of that with this event, but there were short films and a presentation. Starting off was Allein, a short film about a man who kayaked across a river, hiked along a mountainscape, then climbed the mountain trying to get to the peak, trying not to let anything stop him. That film was nicely made. Gave me hope. Now for the presentation, Documentarian Sharad Kharé spoke to photographer Daniel Fox who shared many interesting details of his book Feel The Wild, what life is to him, and his survival tactics. During the intermission, he even signed books and answered questions. After all that, came The Running Pastor, the story of Sverri Steinholm, who is a pastor around the Faroe islands where the landscape of the mountains looks unforgiving. Aside from hosting Church, Steinholm also runs along the edges of the mountains as he enjoys exploring and doing something extreme to keep the blood going. This film had great shots, and cool music for the ending. The final film of the night was Into The Canyon where two friends, a photographer and a writer go unprepared on a journey all the way across the grand canyon. 1st try was definitely a bust, but they made it 2nd time around which took them a year. That’s pretty amazing as they’ve run into issues doing a lot of extreme (and stupid) things over the years. It’s kind of interesting, some bits are seemingly funny, but the injuries shown on screen are certainly disgusting to look at, and there’s bits of serious matter in there regarding the construction of tourist bridges and people who protest oil drilling and electricity plants being built in the area.

VIMFF gave me a lot to explore this year, and I’m looking into seeing even more if possible next year. There’s still some events going on with it for this weekend, so feel free to take a look at the schedule and maybe attend one of these events. You’ll see so much cool stuff about the mountains and learn what people do out there. It’s thrilling for us city folk, but to the truly daring, it’s everyday life.

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