Tag Archives: film festival

This Way Up! Kendal Mountain Festival 2017

As far as I’m concerned, the best excuse to visit any place for the first time is attending a great festival. So I hopped on the train to Kendal – the gateway to the Lake District – for a weekend of mountain films and culture, readings by nature writers and a visit to the famous Lakes, of course.

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Kendal Mountain Festival (16-19 November 2017) is the largest festival of its kind in the world and brings together enthusiasts from various mountain sports, such as climbing, trail running, caving, snow sports and other outdoor pursuits. This year, they also had a literature festival, which was a welcome addition.

I arrived on Thursday afternoon in time for the opening ceremony, a procession in the dark from a little park outside a pub in Kendal to the Brewery Arts Centre led by a local traditional band. Once we got there, there was an introduction by the festival organisers and we got to see a few of the shorter festival entries and the pretty awesome festival trailer ‘A Spark in the Dark’ with a poem written by festival artistic director Claire Carter.

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The next day I explored the festival and the town properly. With Kendal being not such a big place, it was easy to walk between various festival venues, a church, the Town Hall, a film truck (very warm and cosy), community centres and a number of screens right at the Brewery. There were also sessions for local schools, ‘secret sessions’ (which were alas sold out by the time I figured out they existed) as well as baby and dementia friendly shows. Most films were packaged up into two-hour long sessions, so you picked a collection of films (called ‘Strive’, ‘Reach’, ‘Seek’ etc.) and each of them had a variety of shorter and longer material. I liked pretty much everything I saw.

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There was also a basecamp in the courtyard of the Brewery Arts Centre, where all the sponsors, such as Columbia and Mammut, as well as some outdoor charities, had stalls to explore. Inside the tent, which was decorated with colourful prayer flags, were also two bars, and the Marmot Café with lots of seats for people to hang out, have their lunch and listen to inspiring speakers, such as Chris Bonnington, Gemmita Samarra, Dan Milner and Steve McClure. The tiny Shackleton Tent, i.e. yurt, just outside offered free films and talks all day. Four-legged festival goers were not allowed inside the tents, but there were lots of dog-friendly cafes and pubs around town and in many other places in the Lake District.

In addition, there was a half-day film summit in the Town Hall for industry professionals with inspiring presentations by filmmakers and producers and a 10K trail run for those actually wanting to go out there and get some exercise done.

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While outdoor sports tend to be dominated by men, as most other types of sport, too, it was the female adventurers that I enjoyed listening to most. My favourite event all weekend was probably the Findra Women in Adventure session on Saturday morning. Four exceptional young women, Jenny Tough (e.g. ran solo across Kyrgyzstan and the Atlas Mountains), Emily Chapell (e.g. cycled alone through Iceland in winter), Megan Hine (TV scout for adventure shows and leads private expeditions) and Rickie Cott (who with Lee Craigie cycled from Canada to Mexico by bike). Each of them had amazing stories to tell of how they overcame obstacles, including people doubting their abilities, and how they pulled through by believing in themselves and becoming more and more resilient with every trip. Way to go!

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I also made it to a couple of author events. One was with Karen Lloyd talking about her book ‘The Blackbird Diaries’ charting encounters with birds and wildlife over a calendar year. The other was with Scottish nature writer Jim Crumley on his latest book ‘The Nature of Winter’. Both told of unforgettable wildlife experiences and discussed the future of national parks, the reintroduction of predatory species to UK forests, the impact of climate change, among some of them.

There were so many great films last weekend, here are a few I especially enjoyed:

My Irnik (family life in the Canadian Arctic), Weightless (fab humorous short paragliding film, won best adventure sport film), The Last Honey Hunter (following Nepali honey harvesters on their dangerous job, won best visual), My Big White Thighs and Me (moving film about womanhood and braving the elements), Skye’s the Limit (a woman circumnagivates the Isle of Skye on a paddle board), Stumped (brilliantly funny climbing film, won best climbing film), Ditch the Van (musician ditches the tour bus and bikes from gig to gig) and Becoming Who I Was (simply stunningly filmed and very moving story of a Tibetan boy searching for his destiny, won best culture).

These are the official winners of altogether 12 categories at this year’s festival.

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As it looked like it was going to be a beautiful, if crisp, day on Sunday, I decided to escape for a day trip around the Lake District. I went on a mini bus tour with Mountain Goat, which was absolutely brilliant. In around 7 hours we got taken to 10 lakes in the area, a slate mine, a viewing point high above one of the lakes, the Castleriggs stone circle, a waterfall (reminded me so much of my recent Iceland trip), stopped in the lively town of Keswick (which has an intriguing pencil museum, as it is the place where pencils were first invented, apparently) and also in Grasmere (where the grave of William Wordsworth can be visited for those with a literary interest and the special Grasmere gingerbread, only made in this village, can be purchased for those with a sweet tooth). Along the way we saw lots and lots of Herdwick sheep, a beautiful local breed, and passed through many lovely villages. While we did run into a bit of traffic towards the end of our tour, the quieter winter months are a great time to explore this beautiful part of the UK, the landscapes were impressive and we had them almost to ourselves.

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Disclaimer: Life is a Festival was provided with tickets to select festival events by Kendal Mountain Festival. Opinions expressed are those of the author. All photography used in this blog post was taken by Life is a Festival.

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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.

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!

Big Stories from Little Filmmakers: The Reel 2 Real International Film Festival for Youth 2011

I love the creativity children bring to any event or process and volunteering with Reel 2 Real International Film Festival for Youth 2011 was a great example of it. The festival, which ran from 9 til 15 April 2011, brought together a variety of film-related activities for young people to enjoy, from watching movies and asking questions at the Q&As to taking part in hands-on animation workshops.

During my first shift I assisted various little filmmakers with transferring their ideas for a short animation story into a stop-motion masterpiece. We used a setup with a camera and a laptop and within minutes the children created beautiful visual stories about ladybugs, snakes and other creatures which tended to get into all sorts of trouble. It’s great when kids get an opportunity to try out those kind of things (especially when it’s free of charge) and get inspired to develop their skills further as they grow up.

Another event which was really inspiring was the Young Filmmakers Showcase, a roundup of some of the best short films made by teenagers and children as young as eight. The quality of the scripts, filming and acting in the selected films from filmmaking workshops all over British Columbia was astonishing. It was a proud moment for the little directors, actors and screenwriters to accept their awards while their parents and the rest of the audience gave them standing ovations. Who knows, in a couple of years it could be some of those kids making it in the big, bold filmmaking world. I really hope so!

Hook, Line and Sinker: The International Fly Fishing Film Festival 2011

Sometimes I come across festivals that I would never really think of attending – if it wasn’t for the sake of this blog. So when I heard about the International Fly Fishing Film Festival, which took place on 26 March, 2011, at the Vancity Theatre in Vancouver, I was excited to find out what it was all about.

Compared to a lot of other film festivals I volunteer at it was not a nonprofit event, but basically a showcase of film excerpts, the dvds for which were on sale on the day. The festival is organised by a family business who also run Fly Fusion Magazine and were a really friendly bunch, so I ended up learning quite a bit about the sport throughout the day. For a free, fun and quick lesson on fly fishing, check out this hilarious video called Fly of My Dreams.

I was also glad to see that while about 95% of the audience was made up of male fly fishing enthusiasts, there are also some very skilled female fly fishing pros around, such as April Vokey , who teaches workshops and co-presents Fly Nation TV. I’m not sure if my newly acquired fly fishing vocabulary (which includes the words spey casting, hackles and steelhead) will come in useful anytime soon, but after today I do feel quite tempted to give it a go myself sometime, even if just once.

Female Film Focus: The Vancouver Women in Film and TV Festival 2011

The Vancouver Women in Film and TV Festival felt like it swished by in just a few seconds, seriously. From 4 until 6 March 2011 an extensive programme of carefully selected films was being screened at the Vancity Theatre in downtown Vancouver, all made by and with some amazing female filmmakers. As it was happening during my first week at a new job though I barely managed to see anything apart from the films that were on during my actual shifts.

What I did catch was impressive, not only the films but also the Q&A sessions afterwards. A Window Looking In was a portrait of 12 BC based artists, with stunning visuals and interviewees that included Canadian singer Sarah McLachlan. Sisters in Arms portrayed female Canadian soldiers serving in Afghanistan and the impact their deployment had on their lives and the lives of their loved ones. I also saw Leave Them Laughing for the second time after having watched it at VIFF last October – just as emotional as the first time around.

Even though the festival passed me by a bit too quickly for my liking, it was another reminder of what powerful stories can emerge when the creative ideas and output of women working in film are being supported and strengthened. Apart from screenings with Q&A sessions and a Women in the Director’s Chair Panel there was also a Digital Media Forum, Pitching Sessions and an Industry Showcase, all in all a compact display of the creative contributions of women to the Canadian and international film scene. More please!

The Sky Is The Limit: The Vancouver International Mountain Film Festival (VIMFF) 2011

With this festival I broke my own record: I did a festival volunteer shift less than 5 hours after getting off the plane in a new city! The Vancouver International Mountain Film Festival 2011 ran from 11 until 19 February and was held in two locations, one was the Pacific Cinematheque in downtown Vancouver and the other the Centennial Theatre across the bridge in North Vancouver. I did my shifts at the Pacific Cinematheque as the other cinema was a bit out of the way for me.

The volunteer team was great fun to work with, lots of friendly and fun international people, as usual. After we had done our job, selling tickets or raffle tickets, ushering and handing out festival brochures, we got to see the films. I’m not really much of an outdoor person, but do enjoy a bit of hiking and cycling. The protagonists of the documentaries shown at the festival were at the totally opposite end of the spectrum though. From kayaking to extreme mountain biking there was pretty much a film for every type of adventure sport you could possibly imagine.

One film that was particulary entertaining as well as awe-inspiring was Baffin Babes, the 80-day journey of four Swedish and Norwegian women through the Arctic. My personal favourite was a talk by Bryan Smith, an adventure filmmaker, wo gave a talk on ‘Filming on the Edge of the Earth’, in this case in Kamchatka, in the very far east of Russia. His account of getting the whole camera team to such a remote and wild place and the number of grizzly bears that can be found there was fascinating and made me want to hop on the next plane to be honest. The only issue was that it took about three separate flights from Vancouver plus a long and precarious ride in an old Russian helicopter to get there. Well, I guess I’ll stick with watching his fantastic films instead!

Here are the documentaries that took away the prizes at VIMFF 2011.

And this is an awesome ‘thank you cheer to the filmmakers’ video from the closing night.