Banff Film Festival, Part Two

Soundscape, by Timmy O'Neill, 2023 Banff Centre
Soundscape, by Timmy O’Neill, 2023 Banff Centre

(This is the second in a two-part series by intern, Alexa-Marie Melendez.

If you wait until you think it’s a perfect step then you will never take a step.

This quote comes from the film, “Soundscape” (Timmy O’Neill), in which Erik Weihenmayer shared his approach to life in the face of difficulties he met while mountaineering. Losing his vision from a young age, Erik refused to give up what he loved, and his words reverberated in my mind. More importantly, Erik’s words embody the message and vision behind Banff Centre. 

I walked into The Bijou with the incorrect impression that the Banff Mountain Film Festival is a part of Knoxville. It is, but it’s bigger than Knoxville, and bigger than Canada or any other location. I spent Monday and Tuesday night trying to connect the dots, wanting to understand the shared relationship between Banff Alberta, and our wonderful city. What does the relationship look like? 

The Blackcountry Journal, by Mallory Duncan and Patrick Elmore, 2023

How did Knoxville find a connection with a small city in the Canadian Rockies?  How do I share with you what the festival is when the real festival took place in November 2023 — over two thousand miles away?! I wrestled with these questions, but as I sat there on the final night watching a man fly on a giant fan (Desert Wings), and a group traveling to Point Pelee from Eureka Weather Station (Canada Vertical), everything finally clicked. 

School of Fish, by Collin Arisman and Oliver Sutro, 2022

Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity is Western Canada’s largest art organization, through time and dedication, its scope of influence outgrew national borders. The art center started as a drama course at the University of Alberta in 1933, operating on a Carnegie Foundation grant. Later the course became The Banff School of Fine Arts in 1935. In the 70s the school continued to gain recognition for its impact, and in 1978 the Alberta government passed legislation granting Banff Centre full autonomy as a non-degree granting educational institution. 

The Banff Mountain Film Festival started in 1976 and is held on the first weekend in November in Banff, Alberta. The celebration’s film quality changed in the 90s, the cinematic submissions moved from traditional 16 mm and 35 mm films, to include three different formats, increasing the number of films submitted. This change led to the reinstatement of “Best of Banff” a film tour across Canada, to bring the stories and wonderment to local communities.

Going Greenland, by Jessica Baker and Erich Roepke, 2023

 By 2003, over 300 films from thirty-eight countries entered the film festival competition, with 40 selected finalists shown at the festival. The best films from the festival go on tour immediately after, but the tour changed. An initiative aimed at local communities finally included US cities, transforming the Banff Mountain Film Festival into what it is today. This world tour delights and inspires hearts and minds on an international platform. 

Introducing the best films to the community of Knoxville, like ripples in water the impact spreads, as now a single drama course in 1933 opens minds in 2024, sparking change and innovation far outside Alberta. The Bijou Theatre ensures to partner the festival with local outdoor and recreational-based nonprofits. As mentioned in the previous article, Monday included Legacy Parks, Tuesday the Appalachian Mountain Bike Club – Knoxville, partnered the Fireweed Program Films, and Team BUSAR, an all-hazard search and rescue based in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, partnered on the final night with the Paintbrush Program Films.

Erik Weihenmayer in Soundscape, by Timmy O’Neill, 2023 Banff Centre

This is why I feel the perspective Erik shared, “If you wait until you think it’s a perfect step then you will never take a step,” applies to the Banff Centre of Art and Creativity. Studying their history and timeline, Banff made decisions with great foresight and took unprecedented action. Like Erik ascending The Hulk, Banff took the next best move. Now a world-renowned art center, Banff did not only reach the summit, but looked out to the mountain range, and said we can go beyond that. 

If you attended one of the three nights if not the whole event, I hope you felt inspired by the films as much as myself. For those who have not attended Bijou’s Banff Mountain Film Festival yet, I encourage you to do so. The shows are a nice break from the daily hustle of life and a great way to kick off the warmer months.