Journey to the edge
Action man ... the late Hendrik Coetzee in Kadoma.
"This is Ben. Can you hear me? We've had a terrible accident here … There's been a terrible accident … Hendri's gone.''
These words, spoken over a mobile phone, open Ben Stookesberry's extraordinarily powerful film, Kadoma.
You get an insight into the people doing all these crazy things and what motivates them.
Seven weeks before Stookesberry made that call standing on the bank of the Lukuga River in the Congo, he had set off with Hendrik ''Hendri'' Coetzee and fellow kayak adventurer Chris Korbulic to explore the notoriously dangerous waterway and make a film about water quality and the work of a local NGO. When Coetzee, a legendary South African outdoorsman and explorer, was taken by a crocodile (his body was never found), everything - including the nature of the film - changed.
Slackliner Andy Lewis in Sketchy Andy.
The decision to put the ''end'' of the film in the opening minutes was a difficult one, Stookesberry says, but one that nevertheless felt right.
''I sat down with the footage and started to put it together and that intro piece was not put in place until the end,'' says Stookesberry, who is a professional kayaker. ''We were trying to get the audience to really focus on the film and Hendri.''
The result is that for the rest of the 40-minute documentary, everything the charismatic Coetzee says is imbued with a poignant significance as the tragic moment draws closer. ''What he says is significant and holds a lot of truth for people who may never have kayaked a day in their life or may not even consider themselves outdoors enthusiasts,'' Stookesberry says.
Photographer Jimmy Chin in On Assignment: Jimmy Chin.
Kadoma is one of the films on the program at this year's Banff Mountain Film Festival World Tour.
Each November the Banff Mountain Film Festival is staged at the Banff Centre in Alberta, Canada, featuring about 60 films loosely linked by the ''mountain'' theme - they encompass topics such as mountain biking, kayaking, skiing, climbing and more general work on environmental issues. About 25 films are chosen from the 60 to be sent on the Banff Mountain Film Festival World Tour, visiting 35 countries as diverse as Chile and Scotland, Lebanon and Bangladesh.
The Australian festival director, Jemima Robinson, says that despite the huge growth of the world tour since its modest origins in 1976, the films have retained their integrity.
''It's still true to its origins,'' she says. ''There'll be slick productions but also just one guy with a helmet cam who has gone on an extraordinary adventure. It's all about the content - you can have the best production but you might still get beaten by that guy with the helmet cam.''
The films also tend to focus on the personalities involved rather than just being ''adventure porn''.
''It's not just the harder, faster, higher, steeper; you also get an insight into the people who are doing all these crazy things and what motivates them,'' Robinson says.
Kadoma, which will be the featured film on the Sydney leg of the tour, has already been well received by global audiences, who have been moved by the blend of action and Coetzee's laconic insights.
''One thing I think is very apparent from the film and to Chris and I was the way he was fully aware of the risks he was taking,'' Stookesberry says. ''It seemed to me that he was defending his own life and death and taking on faith that we only have a very limited time on Earth and we should take full advantage of that time - not in terms of taking silly risks but in trying to learn something and see the world with eyes wide open.''
Risk and adventure are recurring themes in Banff films and nowhere are they more apparent than in a breathtaking 15-minute film about professional slackliner Andy Lewis.
Slacklining began as a low-key recreation among climbers who strung lengths of 25-millimetre webbing between tree trunks, then practised walking along the line as a way to improve their balance.
Lewis (whose ''dial is turned up a few notches higher than anyone else'', according to a friend) has taken the simple concept of walking along a piece of webbing and turned it into an almost insanely risky, heart-stopping solo performance.
The film, called Sketchy Andy, follows Lewis's exploits, most notably in the Moab desert in Utah, walking across lines hundreds of metres in the air, sometimes clothed, sometimes naked, and, incredibly, often without a safety tether to save him if he were to fall.
''It's like you take something that is already acutely dangerous and make it more dangerous,'' says Timmy O'Neill, himself a professional climber known for death-defying ascents of city buildings. ''It's part insanity and part genius.''
Even Lewis admits much of what he does is ''soul-grippingly terrifying'', but, as the film tries to explain, that doesn't stop him going back for more. ''I think when you are born, you start dying, so you may as well have a good time,'' he says.
But, surely, he'll slow down on the ultra-risky stuff as he gets older?
''I don't believe so,'' he says. ''I think I'll try to keep going until the day I die.''
THE BANFF MOUNTAIN FILM FESTIVAL 2012
Monday to May 12, 7.30pm, Seymour Centre, Corner Cleveland Street and City Road, Chippendale. There are also screenings at Katoomba on May 16 and Avoca Beach on May 18. For full details visit banffaustralia.com.au, 9351 7940, $31.50.