We're the top festival in the whole world for action sports. Sundance deserves all the attention it gets, but so do we. —Brian Wimmer, X-Dance festival director

SALT LAKE CITY — Afghanistan, Egypt and a group that escaped terrorist captors by pushing a guard off a sheer cliff.

What do these topics have to do with extreme sports? This weekend, everything.

Beginning Thursday and running through Sunday, The Depot at 400 W. South Temple will host the 13th annual X-Dance Film Festival, the world's premier action sports film festival. Or as organizers like to call it, the Academy Awards of action sports.

"These are the best (action sports films) in the world, from all over the world," said festival founder and director Brian Wimmer.

This year's festival has about 30 movies highlighting sports such as skiing, snowboarding, skateboarding, rock climbing, BASE jumping, kayaking and surfing.

But Wimmer said the film festival is more than just watching a Tony Hawk or Travis Pastrana highlight reel for 60 minutes. Most of the films at the festival were made for audiences of all ages and interests, even those who have never heard of the skateboard and motorcycle legends.

"What we're really pushing with this action sports stuff is story," he said. "You don't have to be a kayaker to love the movie 'Congo.' It tells the whole story. It crosses over into mainstream. Too often (in the past), it's just been this little niche audience, or core audience, that always appealed to lowest common detonator."

This year's films include "Congo: The Grand Inga Project," a film that documents possibly one of the most harrowing outdoor adventures ever. Four kayakers set out to navigate the Inga Rapids on the Congo river, a feat that has never been successfully accomplished.

Another film, "The Kyrgyzstan Project," is a documentary about a mountain climber who returns to the Ak-Su Valley of Kyrgyzstan to finish what he started 11 years earlier. John Dickey was with another group of climbers in the same area in 2000, when they were kidnapped by militants and held hostage for six days. They escaped only after one of the members of the group pushed one of their guards off a sheer cliff.

Another film looks at a group of snowboarders in the war-torn area of Afghanistan, while another looks at the impact skateboarding has had on another embattled area of the world, Egypt.

This is the first year X-Dance has been held in November. Traditionally, it is held around the same time as the Sundance Film Festival. But Wimmer said there are traditionally other events are going on at the same time, such as the Outdoor Retailers Convention, the Dew Tour and Slam Dance . The X-Dance Festival, he said, ended up getting lost in it all.

"This is going to give us center stage," Wimmer said. "We're the top festival in the whole world for action sports. Sundance deserves all the attention it gets, but so do we."

Wimmer, who actually lives near Sundance, said X-Dance wants to do to action sports films what Sundance has done for independent films.

"The city of Salt Lake has really gotten behind us," he said.

There are also films that appeal to teenage skateboaders and rollerblade enthusiasts. On Sunday, the film "Camplibs" will be shown. Before the screening, two scholarships will be awarded for Camp Woodward, Pennsylvania's infamous action sports camp for children ages 7 to 17.

"That's the place you go to learn those crazy tricks," Wimmer said. "It's heaven for kid who likes skateboarding and action sports."

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Utah residents will also want to visit Swag Town while at the festival, if for no other reason than to get the free handouts.

A DJ and a hip-hop band from Los Angeles will be the featured musical entertainment at night.

On Sunday, there will be an awards ceremony, which is free and open to the public. Sunday will also include a filmmakers workshop on how to better use Go Pro equipment and how to edit.

Tickets for X-Dance can be purchased at The Depot box office or at Smith's Tix.

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