Discovering Kevin Vallely and his story

Vancouver International Mountain Film Festival (VIMFF) — Family Day

When I initially was invited to the event by my brother, I thought we were going to see a couple of short films. What I actually experienced blew my mind. He picked me up and I directed him to the Centennial theatre in North Vancouver. We picked up our tickets and I snuck past security with my coffee thanks to a guard with an appreciation for reusable mugs. Several tables were lined up in the well lit hall but a large painting caught my eye. An artist named Jessica Gilbert was painting a picture of Howe Sound in front of event attendees. Neatly arranged, small art pieces sat on her table. Her painting was captivating as she made an incredible effort look effortless. We wandered around the various tables while my eldest brother Dave collected gross amounts of Clif bars. There were mostly prize draw tables, but a bike trip promotion table made me do a double take — I couldn’t see how anyone could travel that many kilometres on a bike. This was one of the few surprising moments of the night. Dave, armed with Clif bars, and myself, armed with popcorn, made our way to the second row. I turned around to see the crowd, catching the eye of a fellow VIMFF attendee. We smiled at each other and I realized I was probably the only 19-year-old in the room. After all, it was the family show and the plush red seats were filled with middle aged Vancouverites and their children, all hungry for adventure. We waited anxiously to get a taste. Soon enough, the host thanked the donors who supported VIMFF and introduced the first movie, “Ace and the Desert Dog.” The 10-minute long movie follows a 60 year old adventure photographer, Ace Kvale, and his 10 year old Blue Heeler, Genghis Khan, on a 60-day backpacking trip through the Utah canyons. Ace decided to make this trip for his 60th birthday, and it was clear he could not leave his best friend behind. Ace and the Desert Dog tells an inspiring story about devotion, determination and a friendship built from the moment Ace met just a puppy. The next film was much shorter, and while it lacked a dog as a main character, it didn’t lack much. The movie, “Devotion: Libby Peter,” was directed by Matt Pycroft and the images were captivating. The film focuses on Libby Peter who is a professional climber who commits to her objectives and life goals while also raising two daughters in North Wales, UK. A picture that’s been stuck in my head since Monday is the image of Libby, hanging onto the side of a maroon colour cliff while bright blue waters froth below. Atop the cliff was green grass swaying in submission to the ocean breeze. Libby was everything besides a sore thumb as she conquered the tough rock and, throughout the film, and navigated the tough job that is being a mother. I exchanged looks of “wow” with Dave countless times. I learned much more than thought I knew about mental strength that night.

The next presentation was awe-inspiring and plain inspiring. This was how I learned about a subject of my Radio Documentary, Kevin Vallely. The host reappeared after the applause and introduced the guest speaker, Kevin. Kevin started his presentation with a children’s drawing of a wolf. While we stared at the picture, curiously, he started to speak, “daddy, daddy, wake up, there’s something outside.” Kevin began to tell us about how he used a shotgun to scare off a wolf and defend his family. Once he had us captivated, he led into his adventure of paddling Canada’s longest and largest river, the Mackenzie. Kevin and his wife went over the details of their arduous paddle journey over 1750 kilometers from Great Slave Lake to the Arctic Ocean. The determination of this family and their love for adventure was incredible. The natives they met along the way provided heart-touching stories. It was inspiring to see young kids getting outside and loving it. Kevin wanted to take his kids away from their screens and allow them to experience nature in an immersive way. I was interested in Kevin’s story and made a mental note.

When they finished, it was time for intermission. We perused the tables again to stretch our legs but not much had changed. The second half of the show snuck up on us. The first of two longer short films was called “The Super Salmon,” a film that displays the incredulous efforts made by Alaskans to fight the Susitna river dam. The Super Salmon cries for the viewer to fall in love with the river and find a passion to save it almost as strong as the locals’ desire. Sweeping images of the landscape blew us away and gelled nicely with one man’s incredible love for the Susitna river.

In the next film, ‘Young Guns.” I can imagine the children at the show were simultaneously envious of and inspired by its stars. This film featured the new faces of the next climbing generation, 15-year-old Ashima Shiraishi and 16-year-old Kai Lightner. Both children attempt an extremely hard climbing feat in Norway and Ashima takes on a monumental V15 boulder in Japan. The film taught me about defeat and a certain mental toughness I could never imagine. At the end of the night, we filtered out and tracked down this evening’s winner of the $5000 Arc’teryx film grant, Dave. He was a little man with a passion for filmmaking. It was nice to chat with him and hear about the plans for his upcoming film, of which the grant allowed him to continue shooting. The movie is about ice climbing in the Okanagan, and although Dave kept most of the information under wraps, I was left intrigued and I eagerly await next year’s Festival.

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