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Canadian mountain-culture film festival makes annual stop in Sparks
by Nathan Orme
Mar 26, 2008 | 1171 views | 0 0 comments | 19 19 recommendations | email to a friend | print
For an organization dedicated to preserving nature in Nevada, there is no more appropriate way to have the year’s biggest fundraiser than by showing award-winning films depicting outdoor adventure and mountain culture.

On April 1 and 2, the Nevada Land Conservancy (NLC) will hold its annual event when it hosts a stop on The Banff Mountain Film Festival’s U.S. tour at John Ascuaga’s Nugget. This is the seventh year the NLC has hosted a stop on the festival’s tour and the organization hopes it will be the seventh consecutive sell-out. NLC project director Becky Stock said the event started with one night in the Nugget’s Celebrity Showroom, which holds about 650 people. The event’s popularity prompted the addition of a second night, then a move to the larger Rose Ballroom where it continued to sell out its 1,400-person capacity, Stock said. This year, the films will be shown over two nights in the Rose Ballroom, complete with screens in every corner so viewers don’t miss a moment.

The Banff Mountain Film Festival is put on by The Banff Mountain Centre, an arts, cultural and educational institution headquartered in Banff, Canada. According to the organization’s Web site,, The Banff Mountain Film Festival began in 1986 as an outreach program to bring the festival to other communities.

“Festival organizers wanted to share the efforts and talents of the world’s finest mountain filmmakers with a larger audience,” according to the site. “Like the first festival in Banff, the tour began small: three cities across Canada. The Banff Mountain Film Festival World Tour brings mountain films to thousands of people who cannot make the annual trek to the Canadian Rockies.”

After each year’s festival winners are announced, the winners are shown all over the United States and the world.

“When I started coming to this event back in probably 1996 and when I moved to Reno I was shocked it wasn’t available,” Stock said. “I had to go up to Truckee to see it. When the Nevada Land Conservancy had the opportunity when (the festival was) no longer shown in Truckee to show it in Reno-Sparks, we jumped at it.”

Stock said that many of the festival’s Nevada viewers come every year and surveys show that their top interests are skiing, snowboarding, hiking, biking and camping. Banff festival organizers focus on small towns, she added.

“It doesn’t matter to them how big you are,” Stock said. “I think that they value longevity over numbers. They’re very faithful.”

Though the festival is a Canadian export, the films it honors come from all over the world. On each of the two nights of the fundraiser, as many as eight films will be shown, ranging in length from five minutes to an hour, Stock said. The exact films that will be screened have yet to be determined, but a check of the 2007 festival winners gives a peek at the possibilities.

The Banff Mountain Film Festival awards were announced on Nov. 4, 2007, and include a wide range of films that pay tribute to rugged outdoorsmanship and mountain culture. The festival’s Grand Prize winner was a 2004 German film called “Death on Nanga Parbat.” Again, according to the Banff Centre Web site, this documentary is about a tragic 1970 climbing expedition of brothers Reinhold and Gunther Messner to Nanga Parbat, the ninth highest mountain in the world, located in northern Pakistan. On the expedition, Gunther was killed in an avalanche during the descent and the film features footage and photos taken in the extreme conditions of the ascent, and interviews with participants of previous expeditions who talk for the first time on camera about the tragic event, allowing it to be seen in a new light.

A film that is likely to be screened during the stop in Sparks is Banff’s 2007 Best Film on Mountain Sports and People’s Choice Award winner, “20 Seconds of Joy.” This film, made by German documentarian Jens Hoffman, depicts the adventure of 30-year-old Norwegian base jumper Karina Hollekim.

“I don’t want to die, I want to live. I’m pretty good at running away, and this is my escape!” is how Hollekim describes her dedication to base jumping. The film accompanies her through many stages of her base-jumping career, until it comes to a sudden stop, changing all aspects of her life.

Most of the films at the festival are independent or foreign works that most people have never heard of, but in 2007 a major Hollywood production did get recognition at Banff. “Into the Wild,” a film directed by Sean Penn, received the Special Jury Award. This film, based on a true story and the best-selling book by Jon Krakauer, is about Christopher McCandless, a top student and athlete who graduated from Emory University in 1992, only to abandon his possessions, give his entire $24,000 savings account to charity and hitchhike to Alaska to live in the wilderness.

“Rarely does Hollywood treat a delicate story with this level of integrity,” Banff jury member Rob Frost said of the film. “We hope that Penn’s work will lead the way for other Hollywood directors, and develop a taste for truth in their audience.”

The NLC fundraiser will also include raffles between films, which will start at 7 p.m. on each night of the event. Proceeds from admission and raffle ticket sales helps raise money for land protection in the Truckee Meadows and the rest of Nevada, Stock said.

Assigned seating tickets are $16 in advance and $18 the day of the event, and tables of 10 are available for $160 in advance. Tickets are available through John Ascuaga’s Nugget by calling 1-800-648-1177, and at REI at 2225 Harvard Way in Reno. VIP seating is also available for $40. A VIP ticket will reserve premier center seating, a fun “bag o’ swag,” a complementary beverage from Great Basin Brewing Company and a one-year membership in Nevada Land Conservancy. These special seats are available by calling Anna or Doug between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday-Friday at the Nugget, 356-3300 x4739. For information on tickets or how you can get involved in this unique event, call 851-5180 or visit to purchase tickets.
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