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Banff Film Festival 2022

Stunning and Inspiring as Always

by Maximilian Merkel

On Saturday, the 5th of March, Banff Film Festival 2022 came to Aberdeen. An event that showcases extraordinary stories from the wild outdoors paired with the breath-taking cinematography of some of the most skilled filmmakers in that field. As a result, our Music Hall was packed with outdoor lovers and film enthusiasts alike and the noble, white interior offered a stark contrast to the colourful banners and outdoor gear from various popular activewear brands.

The festival celebrates nature, human achievements, incredible filmmaking, and the radical passion of some of the most impressive snowboarders, climbers, skiers, mountain bikers, and explorers from all over the world.

Ranging from 5-minute short movies to hour-long documentaries, Banff Film Festival displays an array of films. Whilst these films do encompass the usual elements of adrenaline, jaw-dropping action, and awe-inspiring scenery, they are predominantly far more focused on culture, spirituality, and humanity woven into some beautiful storytelling getting to the 'why' of adventurous expeditions and extreme outdoor sport.

Photo courtesy of

The films this year included an incredible documentary about an almost failed polar expedition never risked before (Exit the North Pole), a film about Nepalese elite climber and mother Pasang Lhamu Sherpa Akita and her return to her passion by climbing her dream peak Cholatse (Dream Mountain), a humorous short film by two Austrian skiers climbing through vast cave systems to the top of the Slovenian alps to have the ski tour of their lives (INSIDE – A Hole New Ski Experience), Scottish mountain biker Danny MacAskill’s ride down the Dubh Slabs on the Isle of Skye (The Slabs), and a film about trail dogs featuring fun slow-motion footage of dogs absolutely flying over mountain bike trails (A Dog’s Tale). Unfortunately, only the last two short films are available online.

However, the film that I was especially captured by is the 40-minute documentary/biography, Learning to Drown, about professional snowboarder Jess Kimura. The film, directed by Ben Knight and sponsored by The North Face, touches on the subjects of emancipation, mental health, the passion of a professional athlete, and the uplifting perspective that even the worst times don’t have to be the end of it all. It combines her capturing storytelling with exclusive behind-the-scenes shots of her stunts, published stunt footage, and breath-taking visuals of incredible quality.

Jess Kimura burst onto the professional snowboarding scene as pretty much the only woman at the time and in 2012 it was hard to think of a more influential female snowboarder than her. At that point in her career, her list of accomplishments grew rapidly. She made ESPN's ‘Top 50 Most Influential People in Action Sports’ and '50 Most Influential Women in Action Sports' lists and collected 10 different awards from Transworld Snowboarding — the most for any female athlete. She became known for putting out one jaw-dropping edit after another, but just as Kimura was finally on top after years of fighting, she lost the love of her life in a tragic dirt bike accident. Learning to Drown follows this story of love and loss while showcasing Kimura’s determination to fight back for her life and highlighting the incredibly strong and self-aware character she is.

After successfully battling through the lowest point of her life, she works on emancipating young women in the male-dominated world of professional snowboarding. Her reaction to the argument ‘but girls just aren’t as good’ is what stuck with me the most: ‘But why? Why is that? Because we never had a chance, we never had a category, we never had anyone to look to.’ For exactly that reason she put together a squad of female snowboarders and started an all-female snowboarding video series titled The Uninvited, so aspiring girls had someone to look to.

I highly recommend checking out Learning to Drown, it is incredible to watch and fortunately available in full on Youtube. You can find The Uninvited on Youtube as well.


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