15 February, 2009

New sight, & the Banff film festival tour

In a way, i feel as though i've fallen off the face of the earth. Sorry about that!
Until two days ago, i spent every minute either scrambling or drained. Scrambling to keep on top of the assignments that came thick and fast, and trying to catch up; drained from the lingering sinus infection and lack of sleep.

A large part of that was my capstone project (an independent research paper designed to tie together much of what one has learned). The problem was i hadn't chosen a topic early enough, and the travel, lost eyeglasses, and illness combined set me back a bit too far. Three days ago, i came to a watershed. My academic advisor clearly wasn't pleased with my lack of progress; nor was i. On top of it, i was stressed out. So i decided the capstone could be done next spring, or if i can find another professor to work with on an appropriately comprehensive independent study, perhaps summer or fall.

Decisive, i dropped the class, and felt relieved. The next thing i felt was lost - because as the dust settled, i realized i would have a VERY light load this spring. More time, then, to focus on the things that are becoming once again vital to me - creative media. And perhaps, if i am disciplined about it, enough time to regain my footing as an effective organizer, to learn a martial art (as i have wanted for a year or so now) and to learn Spanish, by immersion, since i know so many who speak it.

With the help of new friend Tom, at least one of those goals is underway; he spent an hour teaching me basics of To-Shin Do. It's rather interesting to be brought from mind back to body; grounded, aware of the relationship between your weight and your heel and the floor as you practice walking in the defensive stance. Or rolling, as the case may be. Also important to trust the mat.

One of the interesting things about three weeks without eyeglasses was this: the brain's face-recognition algorithms fail to adjust their processing - or reaction speed - to your reduced acuity. So for the past three weeks i've had more than my share of accidentally "recognizing" complete strangers - and of seeming like a jerk for ignoring passing friends. I'm not sure which is worse. Thankfully, that at last ended today, with a new pair of eyeglasses. It only took twenty days.

But speaking of falling off the face of the earth...more, after a great image from the Banff photography competition!

With new sight, i drove fifty miles south to Rockport. After a few flustered weeks, i had remembered that this was the weekend the Banff Mountain Film Festival world tour came to Maine. Something that, having rediscovered my passion for film, i couldn't miss again. I called for tickets, only to discover that Bangor and both Ellsworth showings had sold out long ago. Thankfully, the festival's web site led me to Rockport, and there were tickets left.

Ten dollars is a decent price for an evening of exceptional outdoor film. The festival began with a six minute selection, "The Red Helmet", an entry from the Nissan Outdoor Games film competition. While it seemed a bit contrived, given the creative demands the filmmakers had to work within, the delivery was inventive. I'm not sure if it's the cinematography, the Interlaken scenery, or the music ("Cold Cold", by alt-rock band Stephanie's Id) that keeps bringing me back.

Without going into great detail, what followed was one adrenaline rush after another. Teton Gravity Research delivered a 12-minute recut of "Under the Influence"; the 55-minute "Journey to the Center" chronicled three crackerjack BASE jumpers as they traveled to the Xiaozhai Tiankeng, a vertical cave 660 meters deep. After the intermission, Nederlands filmmaker Jan van den Berg brought a more sobering note with "Silent Snow", a 13-minute documentary on Greenland Inuit which hammered home the realities of cultural difference - and cultural change, as the Inuit's favored foods bear ever higher concentrations of industrial poisons. Then it was back to play: "If You're Not Falling", says Canadian climber Sonnie Trotter in an 8-minute study in perseverance, "you're not trying." Next, New Britain, in Papua New Guinea, provided the kayakers of the Epicocity Project with a "Last Frontier", and 18-minutes worth of jungle and gnarly whitewater. You can see the entire film here.

The low-budget entry for the evening was, in its simplicity, delightful. Canadian Greg Hill is a regular guy, who likes to backcountry ski. With buddies. And a videocamera. You can follow Greg's adventures on youtube, or if you have a chance to attend the Banff tour, see the best of them assembled, with his trademark understated humor, in the 14-minute "Unbearable Lightness of Skiing". Finally, a 12-minute edit of technical mountain biker Ryan Leech's "Crux" urbanized things a little.

By the end of the evening, though, i was left with little sense of substance - as if aside from the technical mastery required, one stunt after another had little real meaning in a troubled world. A fellow audience member's sarcasm echoed what i was feeling: "I'm glad the world exists for these white boys to play in." In the Epicocity film, a certain sense of cultural injustice bothered me - to see the paddlers bringing their first-world lifestyle to some place (airlifted dried fruits, anyone?) and suggesting the natives should conserve their landscape (palm oil plantations? oh no!). I don't know if it's fair to suggest, even to your audience, that the natives are better off without the market economy that makes such explorations - or such films - possible, and go on your merry way believing the natives should stay as they are.

If you didn't make it through that link-fest, at the very least take a moment to watch the festival intro (linked above, and again here): the best moments of the Banff festival wrapped into less than three minutes. The time-lapse, snowcapped panorama at 1:20 alone is worth it, as the alpine sun slides below snowy peaks and stars whirl overhead..... That's all for now.