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Best of Banff Fest back in Whistler

Intrigue surrounding grand prize winner continues to grow in film’s absence

What: Best of Banff Mountain Film Festival

Where: MY (Millennium) Place

When: Dec. 10-11, 7 p.m.

Tickets: $18

It’s a December tradition 14 years strong, anticipated by the active and adventure-loving Whistler community. This weekend, the best of the internationally renowned Banff Mountain Film Festival, which wrapped up its 2004 edition in November, will once again be brought to our doorstep courtesy of James Retty, owner and proprietor of local outfitter the Escape Route.

Retty has procured a selection of 14 compelling action and mountain culture films from the festival to screen over two nights at MY Place, beginning Friday, Dec. 10.

Each evening will feature a different lineup of films on varying subjects.

Included in this year’s selection is the double award winner Alone Across Australia , honoured by the festival jury as the Best Film on Mountain Environment and also by the Banff audience with the People’s Choice award.

Produced in Australia in 2003, the film follows renowned climber/outdoor adventurer Jon Muir on his 128-day, 2,500 km odyssey to cross Australia from the South Coast to the North Coast, surviving entirely off the land, in 2001.

Other award winners screening in Whistler are the festival-edited version of Teton Gravity Research’s latest 16mm big mountain action film Soul Purpose , which received a special jury mention, and Sinners , Nelson-based filmmaker Bill Heath’s ode to riding deep powder in the Kootenays, honoured as the Best Film on Mountain Sport.

The Grand Prize Award Winner Odwrót (Retreat) will not be screening, due to yet another compelling twist in the film’s story.

Produced in Poland in 1967 by Jerzy Surdel, the dramatic 21-minute film tells the story of a solo retreat mission following a mountaineering accident.

In 1981 the film screened at an Italian film festival where it was viewed by American climber/author Lito Tejada Flores.

Flores was so captivated by Odwrót he set about acquiring a copy of the film but was told there was only one copy of the film in existence, and that the director was dead. Concerned that the film would vanish while Poland was behind the Iron Curtin, Flores enlisted Seattle-based architect Alex Bertulis, a fellow American climber of Lithuanian descent, to help acquire the film from Film Polski.

According to Bertulis the Polish organization fully supported his initiative to reproduce the film in the United States, entrusting him with the master.

Back in the States, Bertulis was told the restoration and duplication of the film would be a costly affair with a price tag of around $10,000. For financial reasons he was forced to delay the project until a few years ago.

The newly restored film premiered at this year’s Telluride Mountain Film Festival, followed by screenings at festivals in Taos and Banff, where it captivated the festival jury as it had Tejada Flores.

"Impeccable directing and editing create a film of poetic ambiguity," said festival jury member Liam Lacey, a film critic with the Globe and Mail. The film was awarded the Festival Grand Prize.

But the plot thickens. Two days before the Banff Fest Bertulis said he received word that Surdel is not dead. The director, now in his 70s, had fled Communist Poland under threat of imprisonment and had received political asylum in Switzerland. He is currently alive and back in Poland.

The new development has raised questions about the ownership and intellectual property rights of the film. Both Bertulis and the Banff Festival are in communication with Surdel, but until the issue can be properly resolved, the Banff Festival is preventing the film from touring.

The film remains the Grand Prize winner. As Banff spokesperson Leslie Taylor remarked, "everything our jury said about the film still stands."

In Whistler, the film will be replaced in the lineup by another Polish climbing film Ciao Martina .

This year’s screenings will once again double as a fundraiser for Whistler Search and Rescue. For more information contact the Escape Route at 604-938-3228.

SIDEBAR — Film Lineup

Friday, Dec. 10, 7 p.m.

Soul Purpose (Custom Festival Edit)

USA, 2004

Alone Across Australia

Australia, 2003


USA, 2004

Heavy Fork

Canada, 2004

At the Ends of the Earth

France, 2003

The Collective (Custom Festival Edit)

USA/Whistler, 2004

Ouray Ice

USA, 2004

Chasing the White Demon: No Big Names 3

USA, 2004

Saturday, Dec. 11, 7 p.m


Weekend Warrior

Whistler, 2003

Last Stunt

Norway/Denmark, 2002


Canada, 2003

Ciao Martina



USA, 2004

One World (Custom Festival Edit)

Canada, 2004