by Michael Bowen
Warren Miller's Storm -- The old man's at it again. For the 53rd time, Warren Miller delivers a ski and snowboard film set in exotic locations and full of reckless aerial antics. Let's just say that if the stunts in Storm are death-defying, they don't defy it with much conviction. It's Jackass: The Movie brought to the wintry slopes.
How else to explain heli-skiing, in which various adrenaline addicts take choppers up to altitudes where the air's too thin to chop, then ski down icy inclines angled at the same gradient as your bedroom wall?
After an opening montage of blizzards and big air, Storm begins with Mike Wiegele and his crew skiing a gorge near British Columbia's Blue River. The film then hopscotches from highlight to highlight. Skiers and snowboarders mingle at the resorts of Aspen and Snowmass, Colo. Freestyle outlaws perform inverted, backwards, truly twisted and anything-but-legal attacks on unsuspecting moguls. There's a comic interlude involving hapless unnamed victims using ancient rear-entry boots, which turn out to be utterly useless on bulletproof ice. A pair of Winter X Games Skiercross champions, brothers Zach and Reggie Crist, hurtle down chutes and sail off enormous drops. We witness skiers who happen to be women going vertical without fear near Cordova, Alaska. There's a half-pipe and rail-sliding exhibition, and telemarking through the Austrian Alps. The Warren Miller guys strap on camouflage and M-16s to compete in a 10K biathlon at the U.S. Marine Corps winter combat school in California's High Sierras. More heli-skiing, this time outside Valdez, Alaska. The champagne powder of Steamboat Springs, Colo. Snowboarding at Whistler, B.C. Insane mountain bikers teetering on precipices. Backcountry skiing with Glen Plake outside Lake Tahoe. And finally, retracing Sir Ernest Shackleton's ill-fated 1914 voyage in the South Atlantic to an icy crag known as South Georgia Island.
As the Jackass slogan has it, "neither you nor your dumb buddies should attempt anything from this movie" called Storm.
The 27th annual Banff Mountain Film Festival ran from Oct. 29-Nov. 3 this year and attracted 263 entries from 31 countries. Of those, just 45 films earned screenings as finalists. Showing at the Met this weekend will be a still-smaller handful of films, as selected by Mountain Gear President Paul Fish. Viewers will truly be seeing la creme de la creme of mountain movies.
The Friday and Saturday evening sessions will run about two-and-a-half hours and feature about seven films, says Fish. While the entire slate hasn't yet been set, he describes Friday's first offering, The Yenisey River Expedition (52 minutes) this way: "It's about four guys who traveled the length of this river, from Mongolia to Russia -- first in kayaks, with plenty of whitewater, then in a kind of wooden rowboat. This was a five-month journey. There is some mountain footage, but mostly it's a look at the culture, at the interactions between people. They share food, you see some native customs -- everything from Mongolian housewives to a Russian Mob boss."
Friday's second film, Rescue: The Cost of Risk (26 minutes), is a Swiss documentary in which two men lose their lives while trying to rescue a little girl buried by an avalanche. It asks, How far should rescue efforts go? Front Range Freaks (Part 1): Urban Apes (9 minutes), winner of the Best Short Mountain Film, follows a daredevil named Timmy O'Neill as he scales skyscrapers in downtown Denver and Boulder, Colo.
Fish says that "the Saturday matinee should be a blast -- an adventure-type show, family-oriented, with a lot of shorter, fun films." The skyscraper movie, Urban Apes, will repeat as one of the nine Saturday afternoon films. Then, in Eiger B.A.S.E. (11 minutes), two climbers do a 13-second free fall, landing 1,800 meters (5,900 feet) below. Then they climb back up, by a different route, and do it again.
The Essence of Adolescence (7 minutes) may overlap with the Saturday evening show, but Fish says it's worth it: "I've already seen it twice, and I'll be watching it a third time. It was made by a 15-year-old Canadian kid." Described as "a celebration of the exuberance of youth, as expressed through snowboarding, BMX biking and skateboarding," it's a realistic film that shows not only the jumps but also the wipeouts.
Also at the matinee, an American entry, MX (38 minutes), features ice climbing in Colorado. In Escape over the Himalayas -- Tibet's Children on Their Journey into Exile (29 minutes), a German film that earned one of Banff's Special Jury Awards, Tibetan parents send their children on a dangerous trip into India, all in pursuit of education and religious freedom.
Anomaly (8 minutes), filmed at Big Sky, Mont., tells the story of a 16-year-old ski racer from Idaho -- who was born without legs.
Saturday evening features Cannibals and Crampons (52 minutes), judged Best Film on the Mountain Environment, in which two men spend months fighting their way through a New Guinea jungle to reach a 15,000-foot peak.
White Trax (2 minutes), the other Special Jury Award winner, is a Canadian film that follows a man named Kris Holm, a man with an unusual hobby: He rides over moguls, around snowboard parks and over rough backcountry terrain. On his unicycle.
The best of the Saturday night films won Banff's Grand Prize. In The Second Step (26 minutes), Warren Macdonald spends a month hiking to and climbing a peak in Tasmania -- despite having had both of his legs amputated.
Sounds as if these films will be exciting and inspirational.