The 2016 BMFBF People's Choice Award Winner: SHIFT

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SHIFT was directed and produced by Kelly Milner, and was screened at the 2016 Banff Mountain Film and Book Festival where it won the People's Choice Award. Read on to learn more about the story behind the film, originally published in the Banff Mountain Film Festival Magazine

Montana Mountain stands tall over the village of Carcross (population 286), just south of Whitehorse, in the northern territory of Yukon, Canada. The mountain has long been a spiritual cornerstone, providing food, medicine, and shelter for the Carcross-Tagish First Nation people for centuries. In the early 1900s, thousands stampeded its steep cliff faces in search of silver, building an extensive network of trails, trams, and tracks to transport the treasure. But when the last mine closed in the 1980s, Carcross fell quiet and – like many Yukon First Nations – the people knew they had to take action in order to survive.  

In 2005, the Carcross-Tagish First Nation signed a Land Claim Agreement with the Governments of Canada and the Yukon, giving them self-governance over 1554 square kilometers of titled land and the capacity to develop their own economy. That same year, the Carcross-Tagish Management Corporation created the Singletrack to Success Program, a trail-building program dedicated to boosting adventure tourism in the area and connecting local youth to their culture. Since then, 40 local youths – most of them members of the Carcross-Tagish First Nation – have transformed the traditional trails on Montana Mountain into some of the best mountain biking trails in the world. Now, thousands are racing to the area once again – this time in search of a different treasure: nearly 100 kilometres of hand-built and restored singletrack. 

Initially, the idea of building mountain bike trails on Montana Mountain – which the First Nation had just reclaimed – was a tough one for some people to grasp, but as time passed, the focus became less about breaking trails and more about breaking cycles of poverty. 

Suddenly, these kids had confidence, strength, and determination. 

That’s what attracted Kelly Milner, a Yukon-based filmmaker and mountain-bike enthusiast, to the program. She had been watching the Trail Crew head off to work on the mountain – axes in hand – every morning since buying a recreational property at the base of Montana Mountain.  

“I saw something really special happening,” says Milner, who participated in the Adventure Filmmakers' Workshop at Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity in 2015. “Here the First Nation was doing something that was helping to build up their youth, helping to build a connection to the land, helping to develop a new economy on their terms… I felt like I needed to shine a light on this really positive and beautiful story.” 

So, she rounded up a film crew (of people entirely from the Yukon) and got to work. 

From the outset, Milner knew she wanted to let the members of the Trail Crew do the talking. “Turns out, it wasn’t always easy. 

“We were out there with the kids on days when they were doing some really hard work, and things would get emotional. Things would get hard,” she says. 

Following the film’s debut in Whitehorse last summer, Milner is proud of the response. “I don’t think that people knew what the kids were up to on the mountain and this has helped to tell their story and make it understandable to people in the Carcross community, Whitehorse, the Yukon and the world in general.” 

Now that the secret about Carcross is out, Milner hopes more people will ride the trails and support the work of the Trail Crew. “It’s up to Carcross to decide how to respond to the number of visitors. That there’s an opportunity to make some decisions about how to make this move forward – that’s an exciting place to be!”