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Banff Centre Mountain Film and Book Festival returns with virtual, in-person showings

“The last 18 months we’ve been thrown some curveballs and we’ve had to pivot and adapt to the online world. … It was much more successful than we could have anticipated. At the time it seemed like a temporary solution and it ended up something that we'll likely continue with moving forward.”
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Kinnear Centre for Creativity and Innovation at the Banff Centre on Thursday (Feb. 11). EVAN BUHLER RMO PHOTO

BANFF – Fans of the Banff Centre Mountain Film and Book Festival can rejoice with a hybrid model offering both virtual and in-person showings this year.

The popular festival is returning for its 46th year, with people able to take in 76 different films over the course of nine days.

But with the COVID-19 pandemic having the festival go virtual last year, festival director Joanna Croston said the addition of the virtual aspect has been a success.

“The last 18 months we’ve been thrown some curveballs and we’ve had to pivot and adapt to the online world. … It was much more successful than we could have anticipated,” she said. “At the time it seemed like a temporary solution and it ended up something that we'll likely continue with moving forward.”

Though there are always the diehards who prefer an in-person showing, the virtual model allows people greater flexibility in balancing the festival with their personal and work schedules.

The hybrid schedule can allow adults with children or people from across the globe to watch from the comfort of their home during the work week, while they can still attend weekend showings.

“The local community is hugely supportive of the event. But people further afield like Edmonton and Calgary can participate more,” Croston said. “It’s always been a bit of a conundrum in how do we get our main markets, which are large cities, to attend more. This way we’re doing it with a hybrid program. … It makes it a more accessible program for more people.”

The live events will take place at the Jenny Belzberg Theatre at the Banff Centre, the Lux Cinema Banff and artsPlace in Canmore. Croston said the extra venues were added to help spread out audiences to allow people to feel comfortable when attending in-person events.

Among the highlights are Torn, a film on legendary climber Alex Lowe who died in 1999 in an avalanche with the filmmaker being his son, Max Lowe. A film on a Canadian downhill mountain biker Stevie Smith – Long Live Chainsaw – will premiere and focus on his meteoric rise and untimely death.

Chic Scott will also interview Canadian ski mountaineer Greg Hill in a conversation on his life and accomplishments for Scott’s latest book, Mount Assiniboine: The Story.

Croston said the selection committee received 375 submissions this year and were able to pick the top 76 films to show audiences. The films come from 11 different countries and the festival will also hold 18 world premieres.

Forty of the films will be scheduled for in-person showings, while all 76 are available to watch online. When the festival ends on Nov. 7, they will be hosting more than 1,000 screenings across the world and reach 43 countries.

In 2019 – the last year the festival was in-person – there were 23,000 attendees. While it is hard to calculate the exact number of people watching virtually since two or more people can watch the same screen, the feedback they’ve received has been positive, Croston said.

The festival features films and books on subjects ranging from climbing, culture, the environment and exploration and adventure. An international jury also awards more than $40,000 in prizes for submitted films and books.

She said they anticipated fewer films due to the pandemic, but were “pleasantly surprised,” by the submissions that have made it “one of the best years we’ve ever had.”

For a full schedule and more information on the event, visit: www.banffmountainfestival.ca.