Category Archives: Film Festival Reviews

Highway to Adventure: The Adventure Travel Film Festival 2017

The Adventure Travel Film Festival, which took place from 11-13 August 2017, had been on my to do list for a few years now and I finally managed to pay it a visit. It is a film festival showing mostly independently produced outdoor, adventure sports and travel documentaries combined with camping just a tube and a bus ride away from Central London at Mill Hill School. The annual event, which also has sister festivals in Scotland  (September) and Australia (February), is run by adventurers and filmmakers Austin Vince and Lois Pryce and apart from the extensive film programme offers talks by well-known explorers, workshops (first aid on the road, medicinal plants, bushcraft, spoon whittling) and even motorbike trial lessons.

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I managed to make it to two of the three festival days, but even though the films were repeated at different times it was really difficult to choose between them as they all sounded really enticing. Some of them also had filmmaker Q&As at the end, like Liemba (a journey on Africa’s oldest steamship), whose director Julie Clavier came over from Paris to present her film. The first film I caught was called Man with a Pram and featured Swedish adventurer and now family man Mikael Strandberg who set out on a two-month walking journey from Manchester to London together with his two-year old daughter Dana and assistant Georgia Villalobos. Alternating between staying with friends and acquaintances and wild camping along the way, the three encounter an intriguing cast of characters, old and young, friendly and odd, on their journey to figuring out what the English are really like as a nation. Definitely one to watch if you think travelling with children is (nearly) impossible, just put them in a pram, pack some nappies and off you go!

This was followed by a triple bill of shorter films: Kapp to Cape, a three-month high-speed cycle journey from Norway to South Africa by British Iranian Reza Pakravan; Two Bedouins, A Camel & An Irishman follows Leon McCarron and his local guide Musallem Faraj into the Sinai desert where they explore the fascinating landscape and learn about the traditional way of life of the nomads; In The Eyes of God Latvian extreme kayaker Tomass Marnics and a handful of his friends tackle the most dangerous rivers in remote Kyrgyzstan.

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Unlike at most other festivals I’ve been to, the venue provided all the food (and I’m assuming they don’t allow outside vendors), so if you’re planning on attending the whole festival, I highly recommend booking your meal plan in advance (this covered cooked breakfasts on Saturday and Sunday as well as dinners on Friday and Saturday night). As I wasn’t staying the whole weekend, I brought my own snacks and supplemented them with coffees and sandwiches from the indoor café (plus there was a BBQ, which included veggie kebabs and veggie sausages, for extra food options). Talking of practical things, there was a shower and toilet block not too far from the camping areas as well as portaloos and indoor toilets in the venues and plenty of drinking water available. I also picked some lovely blackberries right behind my tent, which made for a delicious foraged snack.

After dinner, it was time to attend a talk and the one by native Sri Lankan Dylan Wickrama was very inspiring. He decided to tackle the Pan American Highway on his motorbike and build his own raft to cover the Darién Gap (where no road exists) between Central and South America, resulting in a 30-day solo boat journey (bike on board), which made for a profound experience, including meeting a pod of inquisitive dolphins. It was a beautiful story illustrated by videos and photos from the trip.

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As the weather was quite windy and cloudy on Friday night, the Starlight Screening, which would have normally happened outside, was moved to the sports hall with hundreds of chairs set up for us. The whole festival was efficiently run by the organisers and dozens of friendly volunteers like Kathy and James, who checked me in on Friday afternoon. The feature on Friday night was called DugOut and was a film by and about Ben Sadd and James Trundle, who ventured into the Amazon enlisting a local man to help them fell a tree, turn it into a dugout canoe and then take it downstream for a river adventure. The film is a beautifully made testament to what can be achieved when you have an idea, follow through with it and are open to learning from the locals thereby discovering a whole new world and skills which our Western societies have largely lost.

After a lovely bluegrass live set by The Jolenes (including festival director and ace banjo player Lois Pryce) by the campfire on Friday evening and a peaceful night in the happy tent, the first sessions of the day started at 10am (sadly clashing with the morning yoga class). I picked the How to Make a Film of Your Adventure by festival director Austin Vince talk, who explained in an hour and a half the rules, pitfalls and ideas around making a TV-worthy travel and adventure documentary. So do remember to work with a shot list, vary your sequences (bits of story) and transitions (bits to link the parts of the story, i.e. maps, local flora and fauna, day counters with commentary and/or music), include children, older people and animals and aim to show interesting places, artefacts and experiences plus try and shoot only what you need.

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I also watched Paddle For The North, a Yukon canoeing adventure which, to my delight, included two puppies, Taiga (a golden retriever) and Zephyr (a wire-haired pointer), who made the already intriguing film even more fun to watch. I somehow managed to see a lot of water-based films during the weekend, another one was Rowed Trip describing Canadians Julie and Colin Angus’ seven months rowing and cycling trip from John O’Groats in Scotland all the way to Aleppo in Syria in 2008, particularly poignant to see given the current political situation.

The final event I attended was a talk by explorer Benedict Allen who, together with BBC Security Correspondent Frank Gardener in his wheelchair (he was shot by terrorists), embarked on a quest to see Birds of Paradise in Papua New Guinea. It was another good example of how having a dream and following through with it is what adventure is all about. And this is what this festival is really good at. Inspiring people to turn their dreams into an adventure, learn from the experts and just go for it. But don’t worry, you don’t have to be an adventurous type to enjoy the event. In fact, the festival was definitely on the quieter side and is suitable for families, more laid-back folks (many of them into motorbikes) and anyone with an interest in travelling and filmmaking.

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Disclaimer: Life is a Festival was provided with a weekend pass for the 2017 festival in exchange for a personal review of the event and mentions on social media. Opinions expressed are those of the author and not necessarily the same as the official views of the event organisers. All photography used in this blog post was taken by Life is a Festival.

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3 Festivals, 2 Weeks, 1 Amazing Festival Trip to Ireland!

My first real festival adventure of the year was actually three events rolled into one. First I headed to the very top of Donegal, to a village called Malin for Guth Gafa Documentary Festival followed by a week in Dublin visiting friends and volunteering with both Dublin Writers Festival and Dublin Dance Festival. As you can imagine this made for a busy schedule, just the way I like it.
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It was Guth Gafa’s first year in Malin and the festival team got an enthusiastic welcome by the local community. We stayed in a couple of lovely houses near the village with sheep grazing outside the window and a short walk to the Green where the festival tent was pitched. There was also the pop-up cinema truck and the world’s smallest cinema, an old phone booth ‘screening’ a short film called Bye Bye Now, about the disappearance of phone booths around Ireland. You can watch it here. Despite summery temperatures one day and a flood the next, it was a blissful weekend, spending time with old and new friends, volunteers, filmmakers and local folks. I also discovered two lovely bands, who both performed as part of the festival: The Henry Girls and Kate O’Callaghan and her husband Seamus.
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Then I was off to Dublin, which was exciting after nearly three years of being away, but I also felt like I’d outgrown it somehow after living in Vancouver and now London. Still very nice to be back. Spent a week alternating between Dublin Dance Festival and Dublin Writers Festival, incredible fun! Both festivals had the usual fantastic programme of international and Irish guests and I got to know  a lot of interesting people. A typical day would consist of doing a meet & greet with authors at the festival hotel or walking them to the venue, stewarding at a dance performance and helping with box office followed by a few hours at the writers festival club for a gig at the Clarence hotel.
Some of the many highlights at both festivals were: Rebecca Solnit (brilliant creative essayist), Tom Keneally (eloquent author of Schindler’s Ark), Kevin Powers and Ben Fountain (both ex-soldiers who wrote fascinating novels about the experience of war); the ‘dual’ between Caitlin Moran (1200 people at sold out NCH!) and Jon Ronson, both fabulously entertaining; the Dennis O’Driscoll tribute evening with Seamus Heaney; Untrained by Lucy Guerin (two professional dancers and two non-dancers, humorous and thoughtful performance); Egg Charade by Aoife McAtamney and Nina Vallon (intense, ironic and playful two-women piece)
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It was really one of my best festival trips in a long time and the perfect start to another summer of festivals!

Amazing Adventures: The Banff Mountain Film Festival UK 2012

I’m so glad I found the Banff Mountain Film Festival UK, which was held in the beautiful Union Chapel in Islington from 21-24 February 2012 and various other locations around the UK as well. So how come a Canadian festival does screenings in the UK? BMFF has been inspiring adventurers and outdoor enthusiasts since 1975 and for the past few years the World Tour has screened the festival winners in 30 countries across the globe. Nell and Simon, both hailing from Australia, set up the UK tour in 2010 and it has been going strong ever since.

What is unique about Banff UK is that instead of showing individual movies at various times, you book a ticket for a whole evening of films of different lengths, which all won prizes at Banff. I helped out at two of the four nights with signing punters up for the free raffle and giving general information. I really loved ‘Obe and Ashima’, a docu about a 9-year old girl who is one of the new talents of the bouldering scene. Other films were about extreme mountain biking, slacklining across canyons without a net, a gruelling climb to the top of one of Pakistan’s 8000 metre peaks in freezing cold and a tragic but inspiring story of a cayaking trip in the Congo.

Even if you’re not that much into extreme sports, watching people fight so hard for their dreams can be a great motivation for anyone to succeed in their chosen field. For me Banff UK also brought back good memories of my first festival in Vancouver last year, the Vancouver Mountain Film Festival, which was just as much fun. Take a look at each festival website for some video clips that will make your jaw drop. Urban downhill skiing anyone?

Defying The Darkness: London Comedy Film Festival 2012 vs Death Festival 2012

Loco  (26-29 January 2012) was my first festival in London since moving here in January and it was also the first time it was being held. Interestingly, it coincided with Death – Southbank Centre’s Festival For The Living (27-29 January 2012), both happening in the supposedly most depressing week of the year during a freezing cold and dark January. As Loco was about ‘championing the craft of comedy filmmaking’ and Death Fest about confronting issues around death it was intriguing to jump between the two.

Loco is based at the BFI where we had various comedy screenings, LoCollege (two days of industry panels for comedy writers and filmmakers), a mood lounge as well as a number of networking events in the Benugo Bar. Death Fest at the Royal Festival Hall had the most extraordinary ‘crazy coffin’ exhibition, tips on designing your own funeral, organ donation, a colourful and musical ‘death march’ by members of Kids Company and death rituals from around the world.

Volunteering with LoCo was a rather relaxed affair. We were a handful of film enthusiasts, some seriously into comedy, who did a mix of working the info table, assembling make-your-own-muppet packs for kids, decorating the mood lounge and generally being helpful. With Death Festival pretty much next door, it was intriguing to observe the different atmosphere at both events. I was surprised that I found Death Fest almost more cheerful than LoCo, which was at times really quiet, especially in the afternoons. What both events had in common though was to help us look at ways of overcoming the darkest part of the year by focusing on positive things. Which of the two strategies we would choose is up to each of us I guess.

Small Town, Big Screen: The Asheville Cinema Festival 2011

Last November I had a wonderful time travelling around some of the US states and as I’d heard good things about Asheville, North Carolina, it came in handy that there was a film festival on during my visit. It was the first time the Asheville Cinema Festival (3-6 November 2011) was being held after the Asheville Film Festival ceased to exist two years earlier. It is never a small feat to revive or start a new festival from scratch. It was all the more impressive what the organisers managed to pull off.
ImageMy weekend in Asheville couldn’t have been more fun and interesting. I stayed with a lovely local couchsurfer and spent my days taking tickets at screenings, counting audience award ballots, handing out flyers and attending various events. One of my festival favourites was the inspiring filmmaking workshops that were on offer. From screenwriting to editing we learned a whole lot from industry experts, such as Blair Daily and Joseph C. Stinson. Another one was the inaugural awards ceremony where everyone got together for a few drinks to celebrate the best of the fest.

If you’re looking at spending a weekend in Asheville and love films I can highly recommend volunteering with the ACF, you’ll be guranteed a warm welcome, fantastic movies and a great atmosphere. Hope to be back myself sometime soon!

Movie Therapy For Cinema Addicts: The Vancouver International Film Festival 2011

It’s been my second year as a volunteer with VIFF (29 September – 14 October 2011) in a row and this time I managed to watch 45 films in two and a half weeks. Yep, sounds like a lot, but mind you, I met one volunteer who had actually seen 85 films including all the media screenings before the festival.

The volunteer team was awesome again this year! I spent all my shifts at the info tent on Granville Street, giving film tips (i.e. movie therapist) and helping film goers find the right lineup (i.e. movie traffic warden). We had so much fun discussing which films were ‘must see’ this year and it was exciting to see lots of familiar faces from last year in the lineups.

Once again, there way too many quality films to choose from. Some of my VIFF 2011 favourites included Cairo 678 and Position Among The Stars (which I had both seen at other festivals before), Cloudburst, Pure, Mitsuko Delivers, Give Up Tomorrow, Burma Soldier, Bone Wind Fire and The Girls in the Band. Having said that, every single person I met had different favourites. That’s what’s so fascinating about film festivals. You can create your own schedule and make it a learning experience, a visual trip around the world or simply a few evenings of quality entertainment. Just go and try it out. But be warned: film festivals are highly addictive!

Watch, Engage, Act: The Projecting Change Film Festival 2011

I borrowed the slogan of the Projecting Change Film Festival (26-29 May 2011) for the title of my blog post as it struck me last weekend how powerful that message really is. I found out about the festival a little late, but was really impressed by the professional, yet fun and inclusive atmosphere throughout the weekend. It was clear that the event was not about pointing out our shortcomings in terms of achieving change. On the contrary, it was all about tracking our progress and finding ways of further improving existing sustainability efforts.

WATCH: The choice of documentaries screened at the festival was spot on. Each of them covered a topic so important, it was hard to imagine there could be any more important issues out there – until you saw the next film and the next…At times this did feel a bit overwhelming, but like someone said in one of the films, it is the awkward topics, which we tend to avoid, that are ultimately the most important issues for the whole planet.

ENGAGE: It was lovely to see how eagerly festival staff, volunteers, filmmakers, sponsors and attendees communicated about really important issues during the festival. In a world of so many naysayers, it was refreshing to be surrounded by such a large number of positive thinking people. As a volunteer I felt included and valued, which made for a wonderful overall festival experience.


ACT: While the festival was only on for a short few days it had a strong impact on myself and, as far as I could see, also on lots of other people. Here are my key takeaways:

– One person can indeed make a difference and lots of small steps towards a common goal do add up.
– Get inspired by those who are already on the right path and either follow their footsteps or create your own project.
– Hang in there, persistence is key. If everyone in this world worked on just one project close to their heart, we could be making incredible progress in a much shorter period of time.
– Get support from likeminded people who will help you through the lows and frustrations and will motivate you to keep going no matter what.
– Repeat step one :-)!

Or, as a 13 year-old boy interviewed in the documentary ‘Climate of Change’ put it: “We should never forget that we are the renters of this world. Not its master.” Let’s keep that in mind.

Winning documentaries:

Best Documentary: Eco-Pirate: The Story of Paul Watson
Best Canadian Documentary: The Clean Bin Project
Projecting Change Award: Marion Stoddart: The Work of 1000
Projecting Change Video Contest Winner: Fair Trade Gangsta Rap