UCSB Arts & Lectures: 35th Annual Film Festival
When: February 22-February 23
Where: Arlington Theatre
The warning that the director of the Banff Centre gave before Wednesday night's screenings was undeniably true: these films will make you want to go on an adventure--immediately. The film festival offered a wide array of film genres while catering to the evening's diverse crowd. From the adrenaline junkie to the socially aware environmentalist, the film festival attracted Santa Barbarians from all ages and backgrounds, drawn together by their immense love and fascination for the undeniable allure of the natural world. With a slightly Thoreauvian meets Patagonia meets FuelTV tone, the festival's selection highlighted films in which the filmmaking and narratives were as awe-inspiring as the locations depicted. Upon leaving the always stunning Arlington Theatre, my wanderlust had never been so potent. This film festival was more than a small introspection into the natural world: it was the equivalent of a stamp on your passport. The audience held their breath with every climb and crawl, they gasped in amazement with every phenomenal physical feat, shivered with every snowy gust, swelled with every tide of the rolling sea, and gushed at the surreal world that only a few have truly seen.
The first film, The Longest Way, chronicled Christopher Rehage's travels in which he decided to walk from Beijing to Germany over the course of the year. Although his trip was cut short, the montage of the pictures taken of himself in all of his destinations allowed him to document the physical manifestations of the internal change that he was experiencing through his search and unremitting desire "to find a place called home." His film revealed the transformative power of travel, traversing the borders and landscape of the physical world and the search for one's self. It reminds me of the quote by T.S. Eliot: "We shall not cease exploration and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time." The exploration of the world coincides with the exploration (and subsequent transformation) of self in Rehage's 5-minute film. Although the film was simplistic in intention and execution, the impact was one of profound revelatory and meaningful significance. (Check it out at the bottom of this post).
As emotionally powerfully as The Longest Way, the second film, Into the Darkness, evoked an equal response, but this time of physical reaction. Into the Darkness followed extreme explorers who embarked on dangerous journeys underneath the earth's most elusive secrets: underworld caves. The audience cringed with the cave divers' struggle to get into the microscopic spaces that led to the magnificent caves adorned with ancient stalagmites. Deemed as one of Earth's "final frontiers," the hunt for these caves highlights the evanescent nature of the world's geology and the great lengths that some will endure in order to witness this uncharted terrain. Director John Waller offers a brief glimpse into the hidden worlds that are just below our feet, but teasingly out of our grasp.
In A Life Ascending, filmmakers document the life of Ruedi Beglinger, one of the most respected mountaineer guides in the world, along with his family in their residence tucked away in the Selkirk Mountains of British Columbia. The film examines their lives of quiet solitude against the backdrop of one of the North America's most unrelenting yet stunningly beautiful geographic landscapes. We see Ruedi's life as one of simple determination: hard work, dedication, family, and a deep abiding love for the nature that he has immersed himself in since his childhood in the Swiss Alps. It is at first contradictory: adrenaline with a business plan? adventure with household responsibilities? But we soon realize that living in such harsh terrain requires not just planning, but plotting. We learn through sorrowful testimony that it is not only difficult, but also potentially fatal. With the loss of a dear friend and seven guests, Ruedi is forced to reassess what it means to be a husband, a father, and above all, a mountaineer. Banff critics describe this film as one that "ultimately explores the power of nature as both an unforgiving host and a profound teacher." Interspersed with touching poetry and resplendent music, the film explores the Beglingers' grief, love, connection, and renewal under the heavy gaze and dark beauty of Selkirk's indomitable mountains.
Feel the Hill, was positively drenched in creativity, spawned by the ideas of two 17 year-old boys who combined their penchant for master editing and a sincere passion for the sport of longboarding all on their own dime. Although not entirely groundbreakin, this film was an amazing contribution that added a zest of enlivened youth into the realm of extreme sports. In an industry constantly dominated by corporate sponsorship and the cutthroat quest for trophies, filmmakers Jeremy Comte and Alexandre Auray reminded the audience of the unadulterated sincerity and enthusiasm that sports can evoke while highlighting their incredible inclination for highly aesthetic camerawork. A People's Choice finalist in the festival, these two young men personify the Banff festival's fresh and invigorating spirit.
The evening closed with the lively and entertaining 20 minute film, The Swiss Machine which offered an interesting view into the vivid story of Ueli Steck, the fastest alpinist in the world. While his tenacity for perfection is only matched by his surprising amicable nature, Steck showed the audience the intensely arduous journey of a man pushing the limits. Slithering up the sides of daunting mountains and cliffs with fellow climber, Alex Honnold, Steck demonstrated with unparalleled physicality and steadfast concentration (jokingly attributed up to his Swiss descent) a relationship to the natural world that was not only about survival or observation: it was one of an unquenchable lust for immaculate performance and strength. While short and sweet, this film was an appropriate close to an evening that encompassed so many dimensions of the natural world: the adversarial, the enduring, the creative, the adventurous, the daring, and most of all, the irrefutable sublimity that can occur when humanity bares witness to the raw and ferocious purity of the natural world.