I’M extremely privileged to be a judge at the Sheffield Adventure Film Festival but, watching over a hundred films, it takes truly special ones to stand out. Much more than fantastic cinematography, amazing scenery, jaw dropping stunts or an inspirational soundtrack, for me, narrative and general appeal are the key requisites.
The best films tell a story and gives you genuine insight into both the sport and the lives of the participants. I don’t just want to see a snowboarder or skier punching through pristine powder, a climber performing unbelievable vertical gymnastics or a mountain biker carving down the trail. I want to know what makes them tick, why they love what they do and what training and sacrifices they have to make. I want to get a feel for the theatres where they excel, the unique challenges they offer and the impact of sport and humans on them.
It’s relatively easy to make a film about an activity that’ll appeal to people who participate in it themselves. Falling into the trap of geekdom is one of the pitfalls for any film maker. For example, I’ve happily watched an hour long documentary about the subtleties of aerodynamics in bike wheels but I’m a self confessed bike geek. Taking a step back and viewing the film objectively I can see how it might have a limited appeal. Being able to convey what a sport is about, hold the interest of a non-specialist audience and still satisfy the geeks is a massive ask.
At this year’s ShAFF, there are a number of films that more than satisfy both these criteria and stand out for me.
Adventure doesn’t have to consist of adrenaline pumping high octane thrills to raise the hairs on the back of your neck and give you a true sense of awe for the planet we inhabit. In Spoil photographer Trip Jennings seeks to shoot the enigmatic and illusive Spirit Bear to highlight the importance and fragility of the environmentally threatened Great Bear Rain Forest in British Columbia. His final encounter with this magnificent animal is, for me, one of the stand out moments of the entire festival.
The feature length Unbreakable is the story of the 2010 Western States 100-mile trail race. Although the very idea of running 100 miles over mountains and through canyons is inconceivable to most people, this film lets you see that the amazing athletes who take part are not superhuman. The race itself is staggering and the twists and turns as it unfolds could almost have been scripted.
When you imagine surfing, you picture sun kissed tropical beaches, crystal clear azure seas and bronzed surf gods and goddesses. FinnSurf tells a very different story. Surfing in Finland is about freezing winter storms, dark skies and darker water and head to toe thick neoprene. Despite the atrocious conditions they have to contend with, the Finnish surfers still live for their sport and cherish every crumbly North Sea wave they catch as if it was a perfect Hawaiian barrel.
Treeverse shows that you don’t need to go to the far ends of the planet to have an incredible adventure. We all climbed trees as children and, as an adult, if you’ve ever let your inner child out and clambered again, you’ll know the thrill isn’t at all diluted. Imagine climbing a whole series of trees, swinging between them and not touching the ground for days. If this film doesn’t put a smile on your face and inspire home based adventures nothing will.
One of the most enjoyable holidays of my life was cycling from Lands End to John O Groats with my wife. Despite the physical demands, the joyful simplicity of only thinking about getting from A to B each day made it a deeply relaxing and reinvigorating trip. On a much more ambitious and committing scale, Erin McKittrick and Brentwood Higman take a year out of their life to travel by foot from Seattle to the Aleutians. In Journey on the Wild Coast they encounter bears, endure freezing temperatures, navigate treacherous flows and regularly run out of food. Their haphazard and happy-go-lucky approach is refreshing and a million miles away from big budget corporate sponsored expeditions.
Even if you don’t consider yourself to be adventurous or interested in adventure sports, I guarantee that you’ll find films at this years ShaFF that’ll excite and inspire you. There are plenty of adrenaline fuelled thrills, pumping soundtracks and gnarly dudes but there’s also beauty, quiet introspection and contemplation of our place on the planet.
lThe Western States 100 has won the 2012 ShAFF Best Film award, a unaimous decision by judges Nik Cook, Lucy Creamer and Tim Glasby. Commended in the Best Film category were Obe and Ashima and All.I.Can. Obe and Ashima was judged the Best Climbing Film, however, with commendations for Race for the Nose and The Long Hope Route.
Spoil was voted ShaFF 2012 Best Environmentand and Culture Film, and Chasing Water and Finnsurf commended. Best Short Film: Pillow Line, commended Whitewater Grandprix and The Man and the Mammoth; Best Adrenaline Film: Sketchy Andy, commended Being There and This Is My Winter; Best Spirit of Adventure Film: Journey on the Wild Coast, commended Kadoma; Best Artistic film: Solitaire, commended Uncommon Ideals.