High drama: Exploring adventure as an art form at VIMFF

- Eliza Kubarska & David Kaszlikowski: Impossible Expeditions, part of the Vancouver International Mountain Film Festival (Feb. 10-18). Kubarska will speak at Polish Night, Sunday, Feb. 12 at 7: 30 p.m., and both will speak at Alpine Adventures Night, Monday, Feb. 13, at 7: 30 p.m., at Vancouver's Denman Cinemas. Tickets: $18/$20. Info and full festival schedule: www. vimff.org.

FOR Polish climbers Eliza Kubarska and David Kaszlikowski, there's nothing like the emotions experienced following a first ascent.

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The husband and wife duo are unique in that they're adventurers and explorers at heart, and at the same time artists - they find the thrill of discovery just as fulfilling as, say, a sculptor reflecting on a new work.

"You're drawing your own line. . . ." says Kaszlikowski. "It's only limited by your imagination and your ability as an athlete also. It's kind of a strange connection."

Like artists, while they're creating for their own pleasure, the accomplishment proves even more gratifying when their discovery resonates with others.

"It's very nice for us to hear that someone repeated our route," says Kubarska. In addition to being explorers, Kubarska, 34, is a documentary film director, and Kaszlikowski, 39, is a photographer and writer. His photos have appeared in a variety of publications, including National Geographic, where he is a contributing editor.

The couple will offer insight into their vision, both athletic and artistic, sharing their passion for adventure with a partner, and making dreams a reality at the 15th annual Vancouver International Mountain Film Festival (VIMFF), which gets underway tonight.

While Kubarska had a documentary film shown at last year's VIMFF, What Happened on Pam Island, this marks the couple's first appearance at the festival. Kubarska will be a participant in Polish Night, Sunday, Feb. 12 at 7: 30 p.m. at Denman Cinemas and she and Kaszlikowski will team up for Impossible Expeditions at Alpine Adventures Night, Monday, Feb. 13, also at 7: 30 at Denman Cinemas. They're serving as members of the festival's film jury and a selection of Kaszlikowski's photos will be on display in the Centennial Theatre lobby. Prints will be available for purchase.

When they're not travelling the world in search of remote climbing locations, Kubarska and Kaszlikowski, who met 13 years ago, call Warsaw home. In their multimedia presentation, they'll share photos and stories from throughout their climbing careers. For example, their passion has taken them to the necropolis of the Dogon tribe in Western Africa, difficult vertical walls in Morocco's High Atlas range, Alaska's Kichatnas, and the Trango Towers in Pakistan. Kaszlikowski has also free-soloed skyscrapers in Poland, meaning climbed without any safety equipment.

"Most of those expeditions, we were opening our own new routes," he says. In light of Kubarska and Kaszlikowski's artistic leanings, a lot of time on their expeditions is spent behind a camera lens - photographic or video.

Kaszlikowski started out photographing other climbers and athletes, though approximately 10 years ago he decided he wanted to document his own efforts. Similarly, Kubarska, who attended Poland's Academy of Fine Arts, found herself straddling the art, and climbing and adventure worlds.

"All my life I was dreaming of finding a way to connect them and I found it in documentary movies," she says.

Kubarska has two new documentaries in the works. The first, Baltoro Passage, will follow the journey of an international group of grown-up children who later this year will walk the same route along the Baltoro Glacier in the Karakoram Mountains where their alpinist parents lost their lives. Their goal will be to reach K2 base camp where their parents were buried. The second is an underwater documentary.

It's rare to find couples who engage in this sort of activity together. Kaszlikowski suggests that could be the result of there being fewer women climbers historically; however, this is changing as more females are taking up the sport.

They plan to discuss their unique relationship during their VIMFF appearance. It was explored in Kubarska's last film, What Happened on Pam Island. The award-winning documentary followed the couple's journey to the fjords of southern Greenland in an attempt to climb the world's highest sea cliff, accessible only from the water, across stormy, freezing seas.

"It was about the expedition, but in fact the expedition was just a background to tell our love story," she says.

While sharing a passion for adventure makes things easier for the couple, for example, they can go on multi-month expeditions together, as well as collaborate on each other's artistic projects, it can be challenging when they find themselves in difficult situations.

"Sometimes there are dangerous situations and if you climb as a couple, you become nervous because you're just afraid, you worry," says Kubarska.

For example, last year, the duo got into trouble during a descent on a wall on Malaysia's Tioman Island. After making it to the top after opening up a new route, they were headed down when a tropical storm hit and the deluge created a waterfall of sorts on the wall around them. They were stalled for an hour, faced the risk of hypothermia due to being drenched in the formerly hot climate, and nearly drowned. They were grateful when the rain finally ceased and they were able to safely complete their descent.

Tonight's VIMFF's opening night program will begin at 7: 30 p.m. at North Vancouver's Centennial Theatre and will feature a presentation by author and adventurer John Harlin III and the screening of three films, Denali Experiment, Moonflower and Linea Continua.

The festival continues to Feb. 18 and boasts a variety of presentations at different venues in the Lower Mainland, including Centennial Theatre, Denman Cinemas and Pacific Cinematheque.

For a full schedule of events, visit www.vimff.org.

emcphee@nsnews.com

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