Prepare to panic as the Banff Mountain Film Festival brings the K2 documentary to Scotland

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Andrzej Bargiel ready to face K2 PIC: Marek Ogien / Red Bull

Since the spring of 2020, when the directors of major live art and film festivals began to appear, performances and in-person screenings are expected to either be canceled or replaced with virtual online events, a lot of ink has been drawn. sunk. the importance or not of the place when it comes to evoking this mythical thing known as the “festival experience”.

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With the Edinburgh festivals of last year taking place almost entirely online, for example, some wondered to what extent this is still the Edinburgh festivals. After all, you didn’t have to be in Edinburgh to experience it, and much of the work available to be seen virtually had been created outside the capital. If a New York-based theater-lover would sit down to broadcast a production of Hamlet made and filmed in Taiwan via the Fringe website, could you really say he’s seeing the Edinburgh Fringe? Where, exactly, was the “Edinburgh-ness” of their experience?

Inevitably, this sudden focus on the essence and identity of individual festivals – the question of what, apart from their location, makes them distinctive or unique – has led to a lot of tearing and twisting of hands over the course of the last year. and half. Meanwhile, the festivals that have been best shielded from this sudden, yawning vortex of existential angst tend to be the most specialized, which already understand and cater to a specific niche audience.

Exhibit A: The Banff Mountain Film Festival – the annual celebration of mountain culture films that has taken place in the town of Banff, Alta. Since 1976, and which in recent years has confidently carried its film program of world renown to an international audience through ‘World Tour’ events in hundreds of different cities, without seeming to waste much time on whether this somehow dilutes the brand or erodes its fundamental ‘Banff-ness’.

This year, a side effect of the pandemic, there are only three screenings of the world tour in Scotland, two at the Festival Theater in Edinburgh on September 1 and 2, and one at the King’s Theater in Glasgow on October 11. Organizers say they haven’t been able to host events for Aberdeen, Inverness, Pitlochry and Stirling like in previous years, but they hope to return to those locations in 2022.

Scotland, of course, has its own mountain film festivals in Dundee, Edinburgh and Fort William, and these very successfully occupy their own niche by showing a mix of Scottish and international films on rock climbing, the ski and the rest (watch this space to learn more about their upcoming editions). Banff, however, is the Cannes of the mountain film festival circuit. To get your movie to show here, you had better capture someone doing something pretty special, and you better do it in a way that is stunning enough and suitable for big screens.

Andrzej Bargiel negotiating the rhyme a bit in his descent from K2 PIC: Marek Ogien / Red Bull

Just to give a taste, films screened as part of this year’s world tour events in Edinburgh and Glasgow include Ocean to Asgard, in which four climbers open up a new route to Mount Asgard, which looks like a fortress on Baffin Island in the Canadian Arctic; Return to El Guayas, where a trio of kayakers try their first descent on the wild Colombian river of the title; and The Ghosts Above, in which National Geographic photographer Renan Ozturk joins an expedition to Mount Everest in an attempt to determine once and for all whether Ed Hillary and Tenzing Norgay were truly the first to reach the top of the highest peak. of the world.

Even in this hugely impressive business, however, there is one movie that stands out from the crowd: K2: The Impossible Descent. Yes, you read that right : of-sniff. For the more serious climber, simply reaching the top of the second highest peak in the world and returning to base camp in one piece would be the accomplishment of a lifetime; K2 might not be as high as Everest, but it’s much deadlier, with just three out of four climbers reaching the top and bringing it back alive. Polish ski mountaineer Andrzej Bargiel, however, set himself the goal of becoming the first person to climb to the top and then ski to the bottom, and not only was it the very first ski descent, but he l He also did solo and without. It’s a truly mind-boggling feat, the mountaineering equivalent of winning the Olympic 100-meter hurdles while juggling chainsaws.

The first half of the movie goes out of its way to prepare you for how terrifying the ski descent will be, and then the descent, when it happens, is a hundred times worse than you might have imagined. As one of the movie’s talking heads helpfully points out, “pretty much every place on K2, if you fall, you’ll get to the bottom” – and then, at a critical moment, Bargiel finds himself caught in a blank, and must decide whether or not to attempt the next turns in zero visibility. It’s really heart-to-mouth, wherever you end up looking at it.

Andrzej Bargiel with his team following his historic descent PIC: Marek Ogien / Red Bull

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