As Sheffield Adventure Film Festival returns for an eighth year, judge and endurance athlete Nik Cook agonises over the winning films
THE final judges meeting for the awards at the Sheffield Adventure Film Festival is always a protracted affair involving much debate, soul searching and multiple cups of tea. This year was no exception. The quality and diversity of the films on show was staggering and trying to pick winners was an almost impossible task. For most of the categories I had at least five or six films in my shortlists and then the other judges would talk passionately about the merits of a film I’d omitted and my not so long shortlists became even longer. Eventually though we finally came to a consensus and the gongs were dished out.
As I started writing this though I flicked on the Track Cycling World Championships from Minsk and the classic sporting cliche of “the worst place to come is fourth” was rolled out by the commentators. Our Gold, Silver and Bronze medal winners were all incredibly deserving but the strength in depth this year was so impressive that I’m going to take this opportunity to highlight some of the near misses that I think are really worth looking out for.
In a very strong Climbing Category, a film of the quality of China Roc Trip would certainly have picked up a reward in previous years. The climbing on show is right on the cutting edge but it’s so much more than a dry crimp-fest. There are some great personalities, you get a real feel for the culture and the soundtrack is probably the most infectious of all the films in the festival.
Next and a strong contender for honours in both the Spirit of Adventure and Features Categories is Congo: The Grand Inga Project. A genuine first, Steve Fisher leads a team of the world’s best kayakers in an attempt to navigate the Congo’s infamous Inga Falls.
Before they even get on the river, the logistical battles and red tape they have to overcome is a mission in itself. Once paddling, despite their skills and experience, their fear and doubts are painfully tangible and add a real extra dimension compared to many high octane gung-ho adrenaline films. The word rapids doesn’t do this stretch of river justice and with house sized waves and vast sucking whirlpools, I guarantee you’ll be on the edge of your seat.
As ever, the Short Film Category was ridiculously competitive and, with so many amateurs now able to film their adventures and produce high quality edits, it’s only going to get more so. A great example of a brilliant DIY film that has gone fully viral is Lily Shreds Trailside. This four legged free rider hurtling down the trail after her master can’t fail to raise a smile and some of her jumps are seriously impressive.
Unsurprisingly in the Steve Peat Best Bike Film Category, some really spectacular big budget epics took the top honours. However there were plenty of great smaller budget films snapping at their heels.
Sea of Rock really puts the mountain into mountain biking and, if you think we’ve got technical rocky trails here in the Peak District, the route that Tom Oehler and Harald Philipp take on makes them look like a trail centre green route.
There’s a lovely historical twist to the tale too as they meet up with local off-road cycling pioneers who’d first attempted the route on a bone-shaker 40 years ago and unsurprisingly failed.
This year, the Spirit of Adventure Category was probably one of the most keenly contested and difficult to judge. The fact that two of the medal winners in it also feature on the Grand Prize podium is testament to this. In Push It big wall novices Jen Randall and Jackie Sequeira prepare to take on Yosemite’s El Cap. Their humour and determination overcome their inexperience, making this a compulsive watch and a true inspiration to get out and have your own adventures no matter what barriers there are. Finally, coming in three minutes short to be considered for the Features Category and with the superb Shaun Palmer - Miserable Champion rightfully taking the Judges Special Prize, finding a place for the superb First Love just wasn’t possible. This was a real shame as, although I sat down to watch it expecting a mindless surf-flick, it delivered so much more.
Telling the story of three young girls from the very cold and British-looking Phillip Island in Australia, it shows that there’s far more to making it as a pro surfer than sun, golden sands and crystal blue seas. It explores how friends can be rivals, the training and dedication needed to succeed and how, despite the competitions, just being out on the water is what really matters.
I had thought that writing this piece would have proved cathartic and that I’d be able to bury those niggling doubts about the films that didn’t quite make the podiums but maybe should have.
However, as I write, more great films keep popping into my head and I could probably rewrite it four of five times over with a different lineup every time. So, before I go completely mad writing in loops, I’ll hand it over to you the Festival goers and let you decide.
No matter what screening you decide to attend, you’re in for some real treats as all the films that have made the Festival are winners in their own way.
ShAFF starts at 7pm tomorrow (Friday) until Sunday night. Sheffield Adventure Film Festival
BEST FILM: Gold - North Of The Sun; Silver - Crossing The Ice; Bronze - The Dragon’s Back,
BEST CLIMBING FILM : Gold - Wide Boyz; Silver - My Life: The Big Climb; Bronze - Honnold 3.0.
BEST FEATURE FILM: Gold - Crossing The Ice; Silver - The Dragon’s Back; Bronze - Ready To Fly.
BEST SHORT FILM: Gold - All I Can; Silver - Kilian Martin; Bronze - Road Bike Party.
BEST BIKE FILM: Gold - Where The Trail Ends; Silver - Strength In Numbers; Bronze - Lacon De Catalunya.
BEST SPIRIT OF ADVENTURE FILM: Gold - Janapar; Silver - North Of The Sun; Bronze - Crossing The Ice.
BEST SKI & BOARD FILM: Gold - Pour Vous Servir; Silver - Ready To Fly; Bronze - On The Road - 2 Years 5 Winters.
BEST ARTISTIC FILM : Gold - Of Souls & Water: Shapeshifter; Silver - Unicorn Sashimi; Bronze - Ski Boys.
BEST RUN FILM: Gold - The Dragon’s Back; Silver - Collective Dreams; Bronze - Red Bull 400.
JUDGES’ PRIZE: Shaun Palmer.