Banff Mountain Film Fest a celebration of adventure, adrenaline

Festival, visiting Santa Cruz for 20th year Feb. 24-25, expected to raise $12,000 for Wilderness Orientation program

Still from Blue Obsessions
Still from Banff Mountain Film Festival film Blue Obsessions, a visually stunning exploration of pristine Alaskan glaciers.
Still from Spoil
Still from SPOIL, an environmental documentary that follows a pair of activists seeking to preserve the natural beauty of British Columbia in the face of a new oil pipeline.

The world-renowned Banff Mountain Film Festival (BMFF) will make its 20th annual visit to Santa Cruz this month, hosted once again by UCSC's Recreation Department.

The much-anticipated event offers audiences the chance to experience a diverse sampling of global mountain culture—a broad category of topics that range from breathtaking snow sport exhibitions and harrowing tales of wilderness survival to cultural and environmental documentaries.

Film screenings will take place on Friday and Saturday, February 24 and 25, at the Rio Theatre on Soquel Avenue. Profits from the festival will go to benefit UCSC's Wilderness Orientation program.

BMFF, a program of the Alberta, Canada–based Banff Centre, is the largest mountain festival in the world, and one of the most prestigious. Each November, following a Sundance-esque debut festival at the World Heritage Site town of Banff, the best-received films set out on a world tour that visits nearly 400 locations across the globe. Of those sites, roughly half choose to use the festival as a fundraising event to support local outdoor or environmental programs.

UCSC's Wilderness Orientation Program

Wilderness Orientation (WO), the beneficiary of BMFF's Santa Cruz screening, is one such outdoor program. Since 1983, WO has offered incoming UCSC freshmen and transfer students the opportunity to backpack deep into the Sierra Nevada Mountains for a 10-day wilderness experience. The program currently sends groups of 12 students, along with two instructors and a veteran student volunteer, on a trip that includes rock climbing, a peak ascent, and a 24-hour solo hike.

Part of WO's goal is to integrate students into the start of their college career, and the trips include discussions of college life and some of the issues that arise for new students.

Since the Recreation Department began hosting BMFF in 1992, the festival has helped to raise over $130,000 for the WO program, according to festival organizer Kathleen Ferraro, senior recreation supervisor at UCSC.

Longtime local BMFF sponsors include Pacific Edge Climbing Gym and the Baytree Bookstore, according to Ferraro. Thanks to their support, the department expects to raise $12,000 from this year's festival, she said.

Adventure, adrenaline, and environment

This year's Santa Cruz BMFF lineup features some of the festival's top award winners, as well as a number of other audience favorites.

Friday's screening will include six films, with a focus on adventure stories. The films' subjects include a visually stunning exploration of pristine Alaskan glaciers (Blue Obsessions), a fearless 9-year-old female climbing prodigy (Origins—Obe & Ashima), and "a suspenseful … and ultimately tragic paddling expedition deep into" the African Congo (Kadoma).

Saturday's audience will be treated to a total of nine films, with a focus on adrenaline and environmental topics. The night's lineup includes a rock climbing expedition set deep in the Chadian desert (Towers of the Ennedi), the tale of a mountain sportsman reclaiming his passion after a catastrophic accident (The Freedom Chair), and an environmental documentary that follows a pair of activists seeking to preserve the natural beauty of British Columbia in the face of a new oil pipeline (SPOIL).

Saturday's screening will also include the festival's 2011 Grand Prize Winner, Cold, an unsettling yet gripping documentary that explores the physical and mental limits of human endurance.

While different films will screen on each night, festival organizer Ferraro, who arranged the programs, was eager to make clear that both nights would present an eclectic array of topics. "I try to balance the films so if you only come for one night you still get kayaking, you get mountaineering, you get culture," she explained.

Both Friday and Saturday's screenings will run a total of 130 minutes, with individual films running anywhere from 4 to 45 minutes in length. Tickets are on sale now (see below for details), and Ferraro warned that they tend to sell out at least one week in advance.


$13 students; $16 general admission

Tickets are available to purchase in person at:

• UCSC Recreation Department: (831) 459-2806

• Pacific Edge Climbing Gym: (831) 454-9254

• UCSC Ticket Office: (831) 459-2159

 Tickets are also available online.