Film festival brings adventure storytellers to MontBleu
Ryan Summerlin December 6, 2012
What do a miniature helicopter, a near-suicidal descent down Mount Denali’s South Face and a birdman in a flying squirrel suit have in common? They’re all featured in Saturday’s Tahoe Adventure Film Festival, a night that the festival’s founder and director, Todd Offenbacher, calls the best core Tahoe event of the year. TAFF isn’t your average film festival. In addition to the eight films, which range from three minutes to about 16 minutes long and are played back-to-back, expect to see a dancing dwarf, go-go dancers and possibly an 80-year-old drag queen working the crowds. You might also win the skiing or boarding trip of a lifetime in the event’s raffle. But make sure you get there early — the event usually sells out and there will be reserved seats for the first time. “It’s not like a real film festival. The concept 11 years ago was really just to have a festival you could come out to where you could get a little bit of everything. It’s a super festive kind of gathering,” Offenbacher said. Offenbacher expects 1,300 of Tahoe’s best to crowd the MontBleu Resort Casino & Spa theater to watch a series of films that take the viewers from the waves of Tahiti to the rugged steeps of Pakistan. Offenbacher first came up with the idea of a film festival 11 years ago. The climber and skier had ruptured his quadricep in a skiing accident, a serious injury that left him couch-ridden in the winter with plenty of time to think. Stuck inside, he decided South Lake Tahoe needed to experience adventure athletes ripping in their elements around the world. Enter TAFF, which first premiered at the Lake Tahoe Community College before moving to the more spacious casinos. “Over the years it’s really morphed into a gathering, a celebration. We celebrate the films and we celebrate what they represent. The whole mountain culture and lifestyle,” Offenbacher said. Andreas Fransson is one of those skiers who epitomizes that outdoor-loving, adrenaline seeking community. The extreme Swedish athlete plummets down Denali’s South Face in the festival’s film “Tempting Fear,” taking one of the gnarliest, most futuristic lines on the planet, Offenbacher said. Like Fransson, BASE jumper, skier and flyer Matt Gerdes likes to defy gravity. But instead of a pair of skis, Gerdes pulled on a wingsuit and leapt off cliffs throughout Europe in the film “Birdmen: The Original Dream of Flight” in search of that elusive dream. “It feels a lot like you would imagine — flying headfirst through the air at 100 mph. The technology has evolved a lot even though it’s a brand new sport. The progression is driven more by people learning to fly better than it is people learning to make better suits. The pilots are ahead of the equipment,” Gerdes said. Gerdes grew up skiing at Tahoe Donner Downhill, Alpine Meadows Ski Resort and Squaw Valley. His BASE career —an acronym for buildings, antennas, spans and earth, the four categories of fixed objects that people can jump from — started in Tahoe where he met local BASE legend Frank Gambalie. One of the top storytellers in the film festival is South Lake Tahoe resident and 2012 recipient of the coveted “Golden Camalot” award, Corey Rich. Rich’s film “A New Perspective” documents David Lama and Peter Ortner’s ascent of the Trango Tower in Pakistan with a remote-controlled helicopter that flew to 22,000 feet. The Golden Camalot — an 18-carat, four-pound version of the Black Diamond caming devise used to protect climbers —is given to leaders in adventure sports, according to the TAFF website. This year Rich joins former camalot recipients professional Truckee snowboarder Jeremy Jones and freestyle skier Glen Plake. “It’s really a great representation and gathering of our tribe. The skiers, the climbers, the people in the community — it’s people coming out to celebrate this mountain community. It goes beyond the films and the sports. It’s really the whole community wrapped around the lifestyle. If you’re a visitor, you’ll see that energy and that camaraderie,” Offenbacher said.