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Award-winning mountain film showing at fundraiser

CANMORE – Pretty much everyone living in the Bow Valley is familiar with the awe that is invoked by the raw power of the mountain environment.
3 Martina – left – and Tania Halik This_Mountain_Life_11
Production photo of Marina and Tania Halik.

CANMORE – Pretty much everyone living in the Bow Valley is familiar with the awe that is invoked by the raw power of the mountain environment.  

That awe, said filmmaker Grant Baldwin, is the inspiration behind his award-winning production, This Mountain Life. 

Winner of the Best Film for Snow Sports at the 2018 Banff Centre Mountain Film Festival, the film shares the stories of those who Baldwin sees as a “special breed of people,” whose attraction to the mountain landscape is so deep their lives absolutely must revolve around the mountain environment.

While internationally-known and respected Canmore alpinist, mountain guide and author of The Calling: A Life Rocked By Mountains, Barry Blanchard is among those featured in the film, for the most part Baldwin’s subjects are largely under-the-radar people living authentic mountain lives.

“I wanted to share these untold stories with people,” Baldwin said. “The subjects in the film are amazing, interesting, inspiring people, and you’re not going to see them in a ski film about pro skiers. They’re usually just the ones in the background, but they’re literally living the mountain life. I find their authenticity magnetic.”

Featuring thoughtful one-on-one interviews with his subjects, who include Sister Claire, an ex-junior national ski racer who lives a monastic life with a group of fellow nuns seeking a closer connection to God; Simon Beck, the world’s first and most famous snowshoe artist; and Bernhard and Mary Thor who have lived off-the-grid north of Pemberton, B.C. for nearly 50 years where they raised two sons, the film is as captivating emotionally as it is visually. 

“It was important to me that the voices of the subjects themselves drove the film,” Baldwin said, explaining why he chose audio interviews over a traditional narrator.  

Without doubt, the story of mother-daughter duo, 60-year-old Tania and Martina Halik, who journeyed for six months covering 2,300 kilometres, bushwhacking through dense B.C. forest, crossing raging creeks and skiing across expansive alpine glaciers and wind-scoured icefields from Squamish to Alaska, captures the passion and pure commitment of immersing oneself in remote mountain wilderness for half a year. 

Undertaking the ambitious trip, which the women dubbed their “Coast Mountain Epic,” was an adventure of colossal proportions. The extremely rugged route, which traverses deep wilderness and is often more than a couple of days’ skiing from the nearest gravel logging road, had only been travelled once before in its entirety, and by a bigger group of young, physically large men and one woman of equally large stature. Travelling across glaciers carrying heavy packs and towing sleds laden with their tent, food, stove, fuel, sleeping bags and avalanche and glacier safety equipment demanded tremendous physical effort and a high tolerance for extreme discomfort for the two women, as they shivered through -30 C temperatures and navigated through blizzard whiteouts. Martina, a photographer and avalanche forecaster, and Tania, a paramedic and ski guide who, as a young woman escaped Czechoslovakia with only what she could carry in a daypack, also carried a GoPro and a solar panel for charging to be able to capture footage during their travels. 

It wasn’t easy for the small two-person camera team who met up with the women at strategic places during their traverse either, as they carried their own camping supplies, avalanche safety equipment and food in addition to heavy camera gear. Communicating with the women was only possible via InReach satellite radios, and the team struggled to keep gear warm and dry through extreme cold, rain and technical mountain traverses. 

In addition, Baldwin, a Leo award-winning director, cinematographer, editor and music composer based in Vancouver who has worked with Knowledge Network, CBC, the National Film Board and ESPN, made sure that not a single shot in the film contained stock imagery. 

Motion time-lapses, aerial perspectives, macro textures and quiet reflections surround the stories. 

The efforts paid off, as the cinematography captures well the soul-warming grandeur of the mountain wilderness from season to season in visually stunning and emotionally inspiring detail.

“(I hope audiences come away with) a sense of appreciation for our natural environment,” Baldwin said. “I hope they’re inspired to try some thing that pushes their own boundaries, and challenges them to go further; this is exactly what I experienced while making the film.”

Hosted by SkiUphill’s movie night as a fundraiser for Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, This Mountain Life is showing at artsPlace next Wednesday (Dec. 19). Tickets are $15 and doors open at 6:30.