Adventures, travel, films and festivals are four of my favourite things. Finding all four together at a camping event in Dorset seemed too good to be true. It wasn’t.
When I asked festival co-founder Lois Pryce about the Starlight Screenings, she said, “They’re the real whammers. Anything that really just leaves you like, “Oh my god! I could never do that!”, or “Oh my God, that’s amazing!”
At 9:45pm on Friday night, the first Starlight Screening began on a giant screen set up on the green outside Sherborne Girl’s School. The night was clear, and suitably starry. People lounged on the lawn in deck-chairs, on cushions, or wrapped in blankets, swilling wine and beer.
Off the Rails is a whammer alright. Made in 2001, the film tells the story of Tim Cope and Chris Hatherly, two twenty year old guys riding recumbent bicycles right across Russia and Mongolia, to Beijing. They begin their journey by unpacking the reclining bikes, already in Russia, and realising things are not going to be at all simple.
“I’d never ridden a long distance on bicycles at all, and it was the first time I’d been on such a strange bicycle,” Tim tells the camera at the start of the film.
Tim and Chris proceed to ride their strange bicycles over 10,000km, 14 months and uncountable hardships, at times carrying as much as 90kg on their bikes.
This film is later hailed by festival co-curator Austin Vince as being “The Target” when it comes to D.I.Y. documentary film-making. “It looks like they had a film-crew with them, but they did everything themselves.”
Saturday night’s Starlight Screening was another whammer.
Deep Water breaks the festival mould in a way, as it it’s a professionally made film with a budget, but it’s one the organisers say they just had to include.
“Deep Water is a different kind of emotional impact,” Lois told me, “It’s almost about the failure of trying to have an adventure, and that’s a topic worth covering, because you don’t want all the big chest-beating, air-punching ‘Hey I’m tough and hard and I did this amazing adventure’ the whole time–there’s another side to it.”
Daytime Film Screenings
Throughout the weekend I made a concerted effort to watch as many films as possible, but despite most being shown at least twice, it just wasn’t possible to see them all. These are the ones I saw which made the biggest impression.
Into the Empty Quarter chronicles the epic adventure of Leon McCarron and Alastair Humphreys, originally just friends of friends, as they trek across the biggest desert on earth, dragging a home-made metal cart loaded with 300kg of supplies.
The film was followed by Q&A with Leon McCarron, who also gave a presentation the following day.
When asked if the cart they dragged across the desert is still in the Thesiger Museum in Al Ain, where they donated it to the reluctant recipients, Leon tells the packed room that he gets an email every couple of weeks from someone who has seen it there. During that time, it has migrated from the front entrance, through the museum, and is now out back by the bins.
Leon tells us they took everything they needed for whole trip from the beginning, including 5x 7 hour camera batteries. They walked 1,000 miles, over six weeks. The whole trip cost £1,000 each for flights, food, costs, and the price of making a film, plus £500 each after they got home for licensing.
How did they set up the distance shots? “Walk very far away. Simple, but annoying.”
Did they see much wildlife? “No. Nothing.”
C90 Adventure: Malaysia to UK is the often hilarious story of Ed March, a ‘dirtpunk tea boy’ from Devon, hell-bent on having the time of his life and making everyone else laugh along with him.
In 2011, Ed March posted his particularly small motorcycle to the other side of the world with the aim of riding it home. There was no plan, no script, no backup crew and no-one to tell him what a stupid idea it was.
Ed doesn’t have a trailer for his film, so I’ll leave you with his (now fully-funded) Kickstarter video, to get a feel for his sense of humour.
Expedition Yemen — 126 Degrees in the Shade tells the tale of a Swedish couple hiking through one of the world’s most dangerous countries with their camel, Kensington.
“The Bedouins wonder about you. They say, Mikael and Tanya… They’re educated. They come from a good, rich country. So why come here, buy a camel and walk?!”
The Ride follows Jim, Craig, Anton and Terry—three paraplegics and one quadriplegic—as they tour the Australian Outback on quad bikes, visiting the site of each of their accidents.
“Isn’t this great? I didn’t know the Outback was wheelchair accessible!”
Best of the Short Shorts
A series of short films was shown in the Music Room on Sunday morning, the highlight of which is was undoubtedly Amazon Souls by Sarah Begum. In the most immersive cultural experience of any film shown at this festival, Sarah spent time living with the remote Huaorani tribe in one of the most biodiverse places on the planet.
“I’ve been dreaming about this journey since I was nine years old.”
At the age of 21, Sarah Begum, a British-born Bengali girl realised the ambition of a lifetime when she went to live with the Huaorani tribe deep in the Amazon Rainforest. This is the film she made of her extraordinary journey. Through Sarah’s experience, this documentary explores how the Huaorani’s practise their ancient traditions and the challenges they face. Sarah hunts with the warriors, gathers with the women and is initiated into the tribe to send their message about protecting their land through her film.
Another great short-short was Twenty-Eight Feet – Life on a Little Wooden Boat, the story of one man’s life solitary life on the waves.
Watch the entire eight and a half minute film here:
How to Film your Adventure
Festival co-curator Austin Vince promised a hall crammed with people “scientific proof that anyone can make a viable documentary.” Austin is a natural showman and his presentation made for engaging listening. He broke down the reasons why making spaghetti bolognese is exactly like making a documentary. You need all of the spices and the other ingredients, but don’t forget the meat!
“Making a film is all about getting the right shots — don’t just keep the camera running all the time.”
Ho Chi Minh Trail by Moped
Ants Boligbroke-Kent repeated her presentation due to popular demand, to a second packed-out room. Fortunate for me, as I’d missed it the first time around. Two years ago, Ants embarked on a solo motorbike adventure along the Ho Chi Minh Trail through Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia on a small pink motorbike, meeting confused and occasionally terrified village people, American Vietnam War Veterans and the Mandukiri Death Highway.
“There’s a comedy factor in travelling through 2,000km of mountains in a slightly stupid pink motorbike.”
Solo Motorbiking around Iran
Festival co-founder Lois Pryce spoke about her own solo motorbike trip around Iran. In her very down-to-earth manner, Lois told us how she handled the dress code, about the never-ending hospitality of the people she encountered, and why a retired Iranian Army veteran turned out to be the jolliest man she met.
You can read my full interview with Lois about her adventure in Iran and the background to the Adventure Travel Film Festival on my blog.
The festival wasn’t all films. Here are a few of the added extras that helped make it special.