Banff film fest brings magic to the mountains

Here's a little taste of what to expect at the 2021 Banff Centre Mountain Film and Book Festival.

Can you imagine wanting to dive from a height of 22 metres into a frozen lake?

Banff Centre Mountain Film and Book Festival runs Oct. 30 to Nov. 7, 2021. (Scott Crowson/CBC)

Can you imagine wanting to dive from a height of 22 metres (72 feet) into a frozen lake? That's about the height of a five-storey building.

And if that wasn't enough of a challenge, how about trying to capture said dive with several cameras but you only get one shot? No redoes.

That's the basis of a short film that premieres in this year's Banff Centre Mountain Film and Book Festival running Oct. 30 to Nov. 7 in Banff, Alta.

Always Higher

Lysanne Richard is the high diver in question, and Alexa Fay is the director who documented the epic dive in the documentary Always Higher.

"She started out in the circus and then learned how to high dive through shows, while travelling in Europe and around the world," Fay told The Homestretch, describing Richard's latest adventure.

"When the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series circuit started, she joined and has been competing in that for a couple of years. She's been dominating the circuit. She's a pretty incredible athlete."

High diving is generally considered diving from heights of 22 metres for women, and 27 metres for men. That's higher than Olympic heights.

"Because of the height and impact, the divers need to land feet first. They reach up to 80 kilometres an hour in less than three seconds. It's a pretty heaving impact on the body."

Fay said Richard got the idea because she wanted shots of her diving in the winter.

Richard found the perfect lake in the Thetford region of south-central Quebec.

It required cutting an opening in the ice, and that was done by 20 volunteers with chainsaws. It took most of the day of filming.

"The hole was 26 by 40 feet (8 by 12 metres). It's actually quite big, but when you are up on the platform looking down, it does not look big."

Four cameras and one drone later, and Always Higher was born, an 11-minute film.

"The athletes were happy with the jumps, we were happy with the shots we got. Everything went well in terms of safety. That was a priority," Fay said.

  • WATCH | The trailer for Always Higher, which opens at the Banff Centre Mountain Film and Book Festival this weekend.


Another highly anticipated documentary is Torn, a personal story about a 10-year-old who lost his father in a deadly avalanche about 22 years ago, but the body was recovered only five years ago.

Alex Lowe and Conrad Anker were climbing Shishapangma peak in Tibet in October 1999 when Lowe was swept away in an avalanche.

Alex's son, Max Lowe, directed Torn and says it became a lot more than a story to share.

"I saw making the film as a way to get to know him more as a man, since I missed out on getting to know that part of him," Max told the Calgary Eyeopener.

"But as I went on with the film, it became more about understanding how I had dealt with the grief of his death, and understanding about how our family had moved on, how we all process trauma and grief."

Anker survived the avalanche, and in a twist of fate, went on to marry Alex's wife and Max's mother, making him Max's stepdad.

"Alex and I had an energy that built upon each other. I always joked that we were brothers from different mothers. We had the same passion for the mountains, and rooted in that we had similar family backgrounds," Anker said.

He said losing a parent is not the normal order of things.

"Whenever there is an out of sequence passing — we expect grandparents to pass before parents — when it happens non-sequential with people still in the prime of their lives, there's a bit of reconciliation that humans go through," Anker said.

"We found that love heals. I guess it's the blessing in Max's story."

Torn opens Saturday evening at the Jenny Belzberg Theatre in Banff.

For a complete list of in-person events, click here.

The festival wraps up Nov. 7.

With files from the Calgary Eyeopener and The Homestretch


David Bell

Web Journalist

David Bell has been a professional, platform-agnostic journalist since he was the first graduate of Mount Royal University’s Bachelor of Communications in Journalism program in 2009. His work regularly receives national exposure.


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