The Banff Centre Mountain Film and Book Festival finally entered the zeitgeist with its opening night panel on diversity and overcoming barriers in climbing.
Acknowledging that mountain sports, and the films that are made about them, have a long history of only representing white males is a small, albeit welcome, step in the right direction. It was refreshing to see black, Indigenous and women’s experiences in the spotlight.
This move seemed to signal that a different, more diverse festival was about to begin – one that would engage all members of its audience, and allow us to learn about diverse experiences along the way.
Despite all this, nowhere was the white male hegemony more obvious than at Snow Show on Oct. 30. This evening of snow sports films, sponsored by Lake Louise Ski Resort, comprised seven films, only two of which featured women in the principal role. Of those two, only one was also directed by a woman.
Why did the festival, which had opened only days before with a rousing conversation on the importance of portraying diverse experiences, revert to an overwhelmingly male (and white) point of view? Where were the female, queer, disabled, non-white athletes, those who do not fit the mold of the “typical” free skier? They were certainly in the audience, watching themselves be totally shut out of an evening of “epic” snow sports films.
As if the lack of diversity was not enough, the sheer amount of navel-gazing, despite the rad skiing, made for one sleepy evening. Shot after shot after shot of someone doing cool things on a snowboard or skis, set to generic thumping music, is compelling for a few minutes.
It does not, however, constitute a documentary: there was nothing to be learned, no insight, no backstory. Overall, the film selection left us wanting more than just powder shots and backflips. Although all the snow athletes are clearly phenomenal, we learned very little, and sometimes nothing at all, about them or their motivation.
We were, however, shown time and time again who their corporate sponsors are, with ubiquitous shots of brand names making it feel like a long and expensive advertisement. In short, anyone who went to Snow Show to find entertainment and learn something would have been disappointed on both fronts.
The highlight of Snow Show was without a doubt the last film, Hunza: Ski and Culture in Pakistan.
Here, we follow three European men on their journey to ski awe-inspiring lines in a remote region of Pakistan. They share the screen with the Hunza people who inhabit these parts and are invited into their equitable and respectful way of life.
By dedicating large amounts of screen time to their local mountain guide and the inhabitants of the valley, the foreign visitors adeptly guide us through learning about the Hunza without veering into voyeurism.
The Hunza, and their spectacular mountain home, are the true main characters. In this remote mountain valley, where inhabitants directly experience the effects of global warming, children are taught to value and protect their natural world.
Ultimately, this remarkable film is a celebration of openness, difference, and respect – for others and for nature – that concludes with a call to arms for the protection of our environment.
We hope to see more films like it next year.