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Photograph Seasons. Photo by Sterling Lorence, courtesy the Banff Centre
Everybody Into the Pool: A freestyle champ takes the plunge in 'Seasons,' showing Saturday at the Banff Film Festival.

The View from Movie Mountain

Environmental issues and extreme sports rub shoulders in the Banff Film Festival, coming to Santa Cruz this weekend.

By Curtis Cartier

There are a few things you can always count on Santa Cruzans showing up for in droves: surfing competitions, City Council meetings, reggae concerts and film festivals. The latter is coming to town in a big way with the Banff Mountain Film Festival, set to hit the Rio Theatre Feb. 27 and 28, and already organizers are predicting a packed house both nights. Featuring a handpicked selection of 14 short and feature-length films, the Santa Cruz showing is a truncated version of the Canadian festival that for 33 years now has taken place in Banff, a small mountain town in central Alberta. As in previous years, extreme sports films featuring base-jumping, mountain biking and kayaking make up the lion's share of Banff's offerings. But unlike the festival's cinematic offspring, the strictly-extreme Radical Reels Film Tour (which comes to Santa Cruz in September), these movies are peopled with indigenous Andean tribes, animated snuff-snorting men and sockeye salmon as well as adrenaline junkies.

UCSC senior recreation supervisor Kathy Ferraro has the desirable duty of trucking north of the border each year and watching the festival before selecting the movies that will make the Santa Cruz cut. Though a movie nut herself, Ferraro says it's not all fun and games at Banff--just mostly.

"I actually work pretty hard at the festival," she says. "I sit in huge auditoriums and gauge audience reactions. I meet lots of filmmakers. A lot of thought goes into our selection."

Ferraro's job doesn't end there, however. The festival represents the major yearly fundraiser for UCSC's Recreation and Wilderness Orientation Program, which sends incoming freshman and transfer students on a 10-day outdoor adventure in the Sierras. For Ferraro, there's no more appropriate way to round up cash for outdoor recreation than through a film festival that glorifies that very subject.

"This community loves this stuff," she says. "They love to travel, they love biking, kayaks, rock climbing and especially the environment. It's perfect for this community."

Filmmakers with work appearing at the festival come from a variety of backgrounds. Some are film school newbies with big dreams and tiny budgets. A few are veteran moviemakers with dozens of awards and big-time sponsors. But all have made movies that are connected to the natural world in ways Hollywood can often only fake.

For the film Shikashika, which screens Saturday, director Stephen Hyde spent a month high in the Peruvian Andes, where he filmed a native household with a most peculiar family business.

"My film is about shaved ice," says the Seattle-based artist and University of Washington instructor. "Well, it's about a Peruvian family who has a business selling shaved ice. They extract blocks of glacial ice from behind their home and then they carry it by mules to the market. 'Shikashika' is the Quechua word for shaved ice. It comes from the sound that's made when they scrape off the shavings."

Joaquin Baldwin created the animated short Papiroflexia, screening Friday. The young artist transplanted himself from his home in the landlocked South American country of Paraguay to the movie mecca of Los Angeles and to UCLA's film school. But if his film is any indication of his attitude toward big-city life, L.A. may be in his rearview mirror as soon as he tosses his graduation cap.

"Essentially it's about a man who creates origami out of paper," he says, "but then starts making it out of the whole world."

In the colorful and brilliantly choreographed three-minute film, Baldwin's hero turns cars into antelope, airplanes into swans and, eventually, himself into a bear.

Even the locals are represented in this year's film lineup. Santa Cruz's own freestyle mountain biking master, Cam McCaul, is featured in the Canadian-made film Seasons. The movie follows seven cyclists through the four seasons of the year, and in McCaul's case, it documents his performances at numerous competitions, which involve riders performing death-defying tricks on their full-size mountain bikes using nothing more than logs, rock ledges and a few dirt ramps. The homegrown pro will be introducing the film before it screens on Saturday and he describes the sport like a doctor describes a surgical procedure.

"We'll build the tracks to start," he says. "Then I might visualize and plan out the tricks I'm going to do for a week or more. Then it's time to go and it becomes reality. I'm just glad I got to be a part of the film. You can see how much fun we had when you watch."

Movie Times THE BANFF MOUNTAIN FILM FESTIVAL is Friday-Saturday, Feb. 27-28, at 7pm at the Rio Theatre, 1205 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz; 831.429.1812. Tickets are $12-$16, available at Pacific Edge (831.454.9254), UCSC Recreation (831.459.2806), Sprockets (831.426.7623) and online at

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