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Adventure Film Festival 2015

Showcasing the best adventure films and extreme sport documentaries.

December 1, 2015

Programme 3 - Objectif Amazone, Sufferfest 2, Ocean Gravity, Humble Pie, UnReal, 82 Year Old Sky Diver, Home Free

Take seven films of varying length – 3 - 46 minutes – settle down, and enjoy the ride!

This was an unusual and at times thrilling evening. The audience was predominantly young, and many looked seriously adventurous, with many personal tales of derring do up their sleek lycra sleeves and well worn boots.

Two films showed a road trip: Objectif Amazone followed French adventurers Paul Henri Vanthournout and dreadlocked Charles Antoine on a six month journey on foot over ancient trails and by raft from the Amazon’s source in Nevado Queshuisha to its river outlet at Macapa, Brazil. On the way they puzzle the locals, wrestle with two recalcitrant llamas named Serge and Bernard, and risk rapids and strong currents on a balsa raft constructed on the river bank to a sketchily remembered design of Thor Heyerdahl’s.

Sufferfest 2 was a cycling and rock climbing odyssey by Americans Alex Honnold and Cedar Wright in which they vanquished 45 of the South West’s most iconic desert towers to often spectacular photographic effect. The scenery between Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and Arizona is magnificent. Their earlier trip to conquer 5 of the tallest peaks in California was recalled often especially when Honnold’s bare, bleeding ass is shared with the viewer. No pain, no gain – yet onward.

Ocean Gravity explored the underwater world with a twist: zero gravity. The effect was total liberation of movement. The underwater world appeared as a planet, and the diver as a satellite, the music eerie and atmospheric.

Humble Pie was a 24 hour attempt at freeing Free Rider on El Capitan in Yosemite – the rock rising iconic and familiar to millions from news footage last year. The regular North West Route on Half Dome followed – the pace and ambition was awesome.

UnReal’s mountain bike sequence with wild mustangs galloping down a stony hillside, snow capped mountains behind was one of the most memorable in Anthill film’s ambitious attempt to deliver adventure’s liberation in order to blow our minds.

Feisty individuals were particularly memorable in two short films. 82 Year Old Sky Diver featured Dilys, an intrepid white haired, animated octogenarian who found sky diving ‘better than sex’. Her daring and new found confidence in the sky has benefited others on the ground. Director James Cullen included scenes of companionship and support from a charity founded by Dilys, benefiting disabled young people.

Most impressive of all – and wonderfully shot, was Home Free: a 5 minute film about champion free runner Will Sutton exploring his home island of the Isle of Man. ‘Most people know this place from the TT races, but I view it differently’, he said, and then tumbled, dived, and leapt along the coast, through ancient monuments, and across fields of oil seed rape.

It was spectacular, and illustrates two things important to viewers: shorter is better, and quality photography is expected. Length and poor quality camera work deaden – no matter what ambition is on show.

November 26, 2015

Programme 2 - The Last Explorers of the Rio Santa Cruz, Burn it Down, Bjørnøya

Adventure and extreme sports films are often appraised in two separate ways: for the filmmakers and the athletes. The disjuncture arises from direction and photography constructing the film, while the performances and skills of the subjects are equally important. It can be difficult, then, to judge adventure film because the criticism so often feels like it addresses two different entities.

In the two main features of Adventure Film Festival's 2nd programme, the lines are blurred as the filmmakers become the adventurers, charting their own exploits.

The Last Explorers of the Rio Santa Cruz is a traditional expedition movie: 3 men set out on horseback to follow the Rio Santa Cruz through Patagonia to its source. The landscape is barren, bleak and harsh, but the wills of Leon McCarron, Jose Argento and Tom Allen push through wind, sun and wild horses to complete their journey. There is a distinct environmental direction to the film, mingled with generic tropes of cultures and 'ways of life' being lost. The river is in the process of being blocked by two enormous hydroelectric dams, causing the destruction of millions of acres of precious wildlife area and the doom of many estancias (Argentinian ranches).

Classic adventurers like Ranulph Fiennes and Jacques Cousteau embodied the traditional style because they combined stoicism with a great sense of ease. A famous Fiennes scene sees him falling into a crevasse in the Antarctic to be caught at the last minute; emerging from the void he brushes himself down and offers embarrassed apologies to his team before carrying on. Filmmaking has changed, favouring emphasis of adversity and intensity of drama, but still McCarron lacks the charisma and boyish charm of the older films while trying to replicate the style, leaving him quite dislikeable in contrast. McCarron aside, the horsemanship of Argento and the good nature of Allen (who is much more suited to being in front of the camera, as well as behind it) make for a pleasing team and an enlightening film.

Burn it Down acts as a brief sandwich between the two major features, but it is so full of tension and excitement that it acted as a refreshing tonic. James Kelly tears down the Californian hills on his longboard, teetering on the edge of his own limits. At times the camera follows his breakneck lines around cars and cliff-edges, other times remaining static with glorious slow-motion shots, exposing Kelly's phenomenal skill and control.
It's short at 4 minutes, but really well-paced; the audience know he's going to fall at some point, he becomes less and less stable as he pushes the board faster before finally being thrown across the road. Exciting stuff made by an exciting director.

The last film, Bjørnøya, is a triumph of innocent dreaming, buoyed by wandering spirit. The movie follows three brothers on a trip to a remote Norwegian island (Bjørnøya) with the sole aim of messing around for a few months. They take their skis, snowboards, surfboards and climbing ropes to an uninhabited wilderness, populated by polar bears and arctic foxes, in search of thrills and their 'pace of life'. Although it feels like they might have only made the film as a means of funding the trip, the brothers' boundless enthusiasm exudes joy and the movie carries itself. They make some really stupid choices along the way, such as going hungry for 4 days when their food store is only a few miles away, or trying to row a dinghy across some slush meaning they lose a third of their kit, but the account of their trip still gets the audience itching the join them. They aren't top stars at any of the sports in the film (although the youngest brother is the Norwegian longboard champion), mainly surfing small waves and edging over steep mountain drops, but their energy and passion is the main subject of the film, and is delightfully winning.

The Adventure Film Festival organisers have really good taste, and have curated their programmes well. They offer a platform for these most independent filmmakers meaning the adventures can continue, and audiences can continue to be inspired.

November 18, 2015

Warren Miller's Chasing Shadows

Warren Miller has been making skiing and snowboard films since 1950, producing one every season. While he is no longer involved, his company continues his tradition of charting the foremost boundaries of snowsport, riding with athletes at the raggedy edge of their abilities. Warren Miller's Chasing Shadows, produced by his company, is nostalgic and reverent to his legacy, frequently quoting shots from earlier films.

The film is described as 'a celebration of why we commit ourselves every winter to a passion that's guaranteed to melt away every spring.' The film is presented as a series of short segments, each wildly different and unique, focusing on a different set of skiers and their styles. Stunning visuals and beautifully-crafted shots follow these international snowsports stars over the edge, carving impossible lines down precipitous drops. The photography is immense, capturing the energy, rush and motion of the sport, leaving the audience drenched in snow, enthralled by the mountains.

But the actual skiing seems a side-thought, an assumed centre to the film and a way of being. The prevalence of sports films, especially shorts, has set a high bar to film production. The Warren Miller films make strong use of their longer form to explore lengthier themes, despite their segmented nature. Chasing Shadows focuses more heavily on the stories of the skiers and their expeditions: one sequence in Nepal followed two snowboarders around Kathmandu as they waited for their boards to arrive, with footage later in the film of them teaching their hosts some basic moves; another section featured a dedicated surfer stuck in the mountains, building 'power surfers', a cross between a snowboard, surfboard and skateboard. The tone of the segments was well-varied, sliding from intense, beautiful freestyling to the farcical Cowboy Downhill, held every year in Colorado. The athlete's characters were presented with sparkling detail, capturing their drives and passions in a prism.

Early in the film, a quote rings out saying that when skiers first saw Miller's films, they thought he was inside their heads. Chasing Shadows is explosively energetic and immaculately presented, but its success lies in its knowledge of the sportspeople. The film captures the passions of athletes pushing themselves and their sport to the limit and is filled with joy, thrills and pleasure.

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