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Banff Mountain Film Festival

Every spring, some of the world’s most accomplished and perhaps outrageous adventurers come to Roland Park via the Banff Mountain Film Festival, a world-touring exhibition of mountain-themed sports, environment and culture that finds its way to Loyola College for one lively, and often sold out, night each year.

The 29-year-old festival is rooted near Alberta, Canada, at the Banff Centre, a diverse artistic and educational institution located in the Rocky Mountains. Each year, adventure filmmakers from around the world come to Banff during the first week of November for the Centre’s annual film festival. Countless films are shown throughout the week, competing for placement in seven different categories.

“This year, there were 330 films entered from 46 different countries, and filmmakers ranging from grassroots to National Geographic,” said Dimitri Galaxides, a traveling representative for the Centre.

Particularly outstanding or interesting films are chosen from the entries to be included in the festival’s tour, although local tour directors have final discretion in the film choices. Often times the ones chosen are not the festival’s overall winners.

“The films vary somewhat for every location,” said Tom Whiding, the director of the East Coast leg of the tour. “It depends on what suits the particular area, and what people want…some of the films are winners, but some aren’t, either because they’re too long or we can’t get the rights to them. But we try to choose the films that stand out or that we think people would like to see.”

This variation in film choice results in a three-hour emotional rollercoaster. Eight films, ranging from a six-minute silent film on a series of Colorado avalanches to a humorous 27-minute documentary on two professional kayakers’ journey to Asia to stake out whitewater tourist spots for the Russian government, were shown in this year’s festival.

The longest and perhaps most prominent film was a self-recorded documentary on a man’s unassisted journey across Australia. The 51-minute film showed adventurer John Muir navigate Australian deserts and outback for 128 days with only his Jack Russell terrier and a supply cart attached to his waist. The film was an audience favorite.

“I really liked the one about Australia,” Loyola student Pete Donovan said. “I like the whole inspiration thing. I think it’s really cool, seeing [Muir’s] emotional swings.”

Support from area community members and students like Donovan has kept the festival coming back to Baltimore. It has returned to the city every year since 1999, and has been held at Loyola five of its six years here. For the past two years, seats to the three-hour event have sold out hours in advance, forcing some latecomers to buy standing room only tickets. Tour coordinators attribute this success to the festival faithful, students and community members who return year after year to see Banff films. Six-year Banff veteran Amber Markum says the variations of films keep her coming back.

“I just love it,” Markum said. “Every year it’s different but every year it’s so good. This is the first time I’ve seen [a Banff film] about Australia.”

Donovan has attended the festival every year since he began attending Loyola. “I love it every time. It’s different than going to a movie theatre and seeing a regular movie. They are real life things. I like the way the filmmakers capture them.”

Of the more than 500 people who attended the event, Loyola staff member Geoff Norbert estimates that at least half of them were returnees. “There are a lot of people that come to the event year after year. We also get a lot of newcomers, but the core crowd is returnees.”

Norbert is the director of Loyola’s Outdoor Adventure Experience, a part of the school’s Recreation Sports Department that hosts the film festival, along with organizing adventure trips, maintaining the school’s rock climbing wall, and sponsoring other various campus events.
Many group members sacrificed their spring break to volunteer at the event. About 15 students helped to set up sponsor tables, hand out programs and sell raffle tickets. Proceeds from the raffle go toward the Outdoor Adventure Experience to help fund the event. This money, along with additional funding from local businesses, is just enough to enable the group to keep the festival coming back each year.

“Between advertising and the raffle, we just about break even,” Norbert said. “This is definitely not something we gain any revenue off of.” But this doesn’t bother Norbert, who says that keeping Banff coming to Loyola is about much more than money.

“It’s kind of become a tradition around here…It’s a tradition I knew of before I got the job, and it’s something that we want to keep going.”

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