I think that we can agree that a good film every now and then is good for the soul. For the ladies, we fancy a good chick flick to get our tear ducts in working order. For the dudes, those Arnold Schwarzenegger/Jason Statham action movies full of explosions and attractive women remind you of your manhood. But Anchorage is host to a massive population of a different breed with different needs: the outdoorsy people. You all know what I’m talking about. We Anchoragians love to climb anything with a hold, ski anything with snow, and hike on anything solid. Naturally, we require an adrenaline rush from just about everything in our lives, and that includes movies. Watching people throw themselves off huge cliffs, ski massive lines, or slackline over a thousand-foot abyss with only a parachute for safety is an easy way to get our daily fix. Luckily for us its winter and that can only mean one thing: ski movies. Hearing the call of the wild APU ski bums, the Alaska Avalanche School hosted its annual showing of the Winter Wildlands Alliance Backountry Film Festival in Grant Hall Theater. Overall, it was just what you might expect. All seven films were intense, beautiful, and inspiring. I swore I saw people so intoxicated by the sight of chest-deep powder that they stumbled from the doors of the theater…
Almost every film was riddled with those moments that make the audience inhale sharply between clenched teeth. Personally, at every film festival I go to I find my heart rate speeding up and goose pimples spreading across my skin. Epic soundtracks and narration combined with stunning cinematography kept the audience on the edge of their seats for this one. Beautiful images of foreign panoramas, which I refer to as earth porn, shot through our eyeballs and into our brain, instantly triggering the release of endorphins. There’s no doubt, we were all getting high off nature.
From some of the tallest peaks in the Andes to the powder-choked forests of Japan, these films encompassed a wide variety of winter landscapes. Of course, a winter film festival wouldn’t be a proper one without at least once visiting Alaska. Lucky for us, three shorts were filmed using the Alaskan wilderness as a backdrop. Nothing was off limits this time. People were skiing and snowboarding off the summit of Denali and jumping over bergschrunds on the Bagley Icefield. I give a special shout out to our own Luc Mehl for letting us get a glimpse of the incredible strength it took to complete the Alaska Wilderness Ski Classic across the Brooks Range. In all honesty, it’s hard to find outdoor films set in Alaska that aren’t good.
This year, the folks that choose the films for this festival chose a few that were meant to tug at the heartstrings and inspire some action on global problems. One film, depicting the struggles of a once able-bodied skier turned paraplegic mono-skier was particularly rewarding to watch. The other film, a film with no skiing or heart-stopping action at all, was about a young boy becoming an active member in the fight against climate change. While it was touching to see such a young person concerned over a global issue, I found that one tough to watch. Between awkward rap sessions in the film, I found myself squirming in my chair and daydreaming about where the next movie might take place. Call me insensitive or uncaring, but I just couldn’t help it. I needed my adrenaline fix, not a lecture.
There’s nothing quite like seeing extreme adventurers in insane places doing things most of us only dare to imagine in our minds from the safety of our homes. The Backcountry Film Festival provided that experience for us all. I highly recommend seeing these films if you haven’t already, especially since winter is almost over. Get out there and ski!