Kendal Mountain Festival Reportby Sarah Clough, Kevin Avery, Alan James, and Mick Ryan Dec/2008
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The Kendal Mountain Film Festival has been on the go since 1980 when John Porter, Jim Curran and Brian Hall initiated this annual celebration of climbing and mountaineering. It ran until 1985 and then returned from 1999 onwards. John and Brian bowed out this year and the Kendal Mountain Festival (KMF) is under control of Kendal's Brewery Arts Centre, and directed by the Brewery's chief executive Sam Mason. It's now a CIC (Community Interest Company), which is halfway between a limited company and a charity.
This year the Kendal Mountain Festival - a mix of films, lectures, interviews and exhibitions - was reduced from its usual nine days to a more compact four days. The headline guest speakers were Reinhold Messner, Catherine Destivelle, David Breashears, and Steph Davis. 300 films were submitted to the Festival and the judges considered 85 films in the film competition, all of which were shown over the four days of the event. In addition KMF is home to the Adventure Film Academy, the International Festival of Mountain Literature, the Boardman Tasker Mountain Literature Award, a photo competition, and several climbing and mountaineering art exhibitions. A celebration of climbing and mountaineering in all its art forms for us all to enjoy, if we choose to.
You can view the full programme here www.mountainfest.co.uk
View the winners of the Film Festival at Kendal Mountain Festival 2008 Film Competition results
Over 8,000 tickets were sold; 6,000 pints downed and roughly 6,000 people attended Kendal Mountain Festival this year. The town of Kendal is very supportive of KMF and climbing and mountaineering in general. Many hundreds of climbers live in Kendal, there is an excellent climbing wall (Lakeland Cllimbing Center), and as Clive Allen of Ascent Marketing says, 'there is a centre of gravity around Kendal as regards the outdoor industry.'
As well as Clive's Ascent Marketing other businesses in and near to Kendal include: The National Access and Rescue Centre (NARC), The North Face, Lowe Alpine, Lyon Equipment, Patagonia Footwear, Marmot, Haglöfs, Rock and Run, Aiguille Alpine, Zero G climbing, the Outdoor Industry Association and European Outdoor Group have offices in Kendal, and there are numerous mountain guides, instructors and outfits in the area. UKClimbing.com have an operative nearby too. Both the Lakes and the Yorkshire Dales are on Kendal's doorstep. Eat your heart out Sheffield.
This year Kendal's mayor, Clare Feeney-Johnson, organised a sponsored challenge, Climb For Kendal, to coincide with the KMF. The challenge was thus: the people of Kendal would have to conquer the 50-metre ascent from the Birdcage on Finkle Street to the top of Beast Banks 177 times. Why 177 times? 177 x 50 = 8,850m which is roughly the height of Everest (8,848 metres). The people of Kendal responded. Members of Cumbria Fire Service, local schools, shoppers, the town crier, local MP Tim Farron, and Helm Hill runners were among those taking part. One little 7 year-old managed 18 ascents, and another 8 year-old made it to 20. The most ascents achieved was by 14 year-old Matthew Smith with 33. The mayor herself was carried up by Kendal Judo Club, and then stretchered down by Kendal Mountain Rescue team, in the process raising £500.
Did they manage to climb the equivalent of Everest? Easily, in fact there were a total of 1,212 ascents, so they actually managed to climb Everest nearly 7 times in the one day, and raised £4,000 for Manna House and Kendal Youth Projects.
Organising Kendal Mountain Festival each year is a gargantuan effort of motivation and organisation, then execution. Many hundreds of people are involved, some paid, some volunteers. All need thanking for their hard work.
A BIG THANKS TO THOSE INVOLVED including: Robin Ashcroft (speaker programme), Matt Heason (film programme), Sara Last (Festival administrator), Andy Perkins (presenters and Brian Blessed escort), Matt Burke (Adventure Film Academy), Kate Thomas & Lucy Bennett (sponsorship), Steve Scott (graphic design), Steve Parnaby (technical), Terry Gifford (International Festival of Mountain Literature), Maxine Willett (film admin) plus Ian (Blue) Gray and his army of volunteers.
Clive Allen who is involved with marketing and organising KMF said,
"It went really well, given that for several people on the organising team it was their first Festival. The core of the team is made up of climbers and mountain enthusiasts and the formula is simple – if we create the ideal event for us, then surely it'll work for everyone else! We learned new lessons and we already have plans in place for next year. Bringing events into the main weekend that used to take place during the previous week – the bike, ski & white water nights for instance – worked well because of the bigger weekend audience. And as long as we continue to evolve the Festival with its heart in mountaineering and mountain matters, hopefully we'll continue to deliver. "
But how was it for you? UKClimbing.com enjoyed it, and below are four accounts of the KMF weekend from Sarah Clough, Kevin Avery , Alan James, and myself.
Make use of the new photo feature: CLICK ON THE PHOTOS TO MAKE THEM BIGGER.
The author Kurt Vonnegut wrote that human beings are gregarious creatures who are not happy in nuclear families, and that we should surround ourselves with like-minded people and 'create stable communities in which the terrible disease of loneliness can be cured'. Some events offer to provide this community for us; last month I went to Leeds Light Night, a series of free exhibitions and shows laid on across the city, but I found the whole thing severely disappointing, mostly due to inadequate organisation. Having never been to Kendal Mountain Festival (KMF) before I couldn't imagine how it worked, how the various lectures and film segments could be combined with the opportunity to network and mingle, but it almost immediately became apparent that the festival really does work, and achieves the atmosphere that the Leeds Light Night failed so miserably to. I'd expected to start my experience of the festival on Saturday morning, but I found myself in the bar on Friday night where I stayed a good while as every time I tried to leave I got caught up in another conversation. The Brewery Arts Centre (where the majority of the film screening locations are found) serves as a central rendezvous. There's a café downstairs and a bar upstairs, all thronging with people, from which you come and go as you please whether it's to a lecture, to one of the film programmes (a series of films grouped by category - climbing; culture; family friendly; miscellaneous selection etc - repeated in two or three time slots), or to escape for a bite to eat.
The first lecture I went to was Colin Prior, the renowned photographer. It was entitled 'Making Order from Chaos' and offered a well structured insight into his photos and experiences, and explained how to look 'beyond the literal'. I picked up tips such as creating an eye path to lead the viewer into the picture, when flat light is useful, and how to make a photo 'visually mature' so that the viewer doesn't get frustrated trying to guess what you're trying to show them. More importantly though we learnt about Colin himself and what drives him, which is to take his connection with nature and share it with others via his photos – it's nice to hear someone speak that's so clearly awed by the natural world.
"The author Kurt Vonnegut wrote that human beings are gregarious creatures who are not happy in nuclear families, and that we should surround ourselves with like minded people and 'create stable communities in which the terrible disease of loneliness can be cured'."
The lectures fit in around the films, and on the film front KMF makes it easy for you to be flexible and follow what you fancy. I watched plenty of climbing films as that's where my main interest lies, enjoying some I may never otherwise see, such as a moving hour's film by Alun Hughes, with the story of Ioan Doyle's progression through the grades, and his mother's emotions at watching her son grow up.
My undisputed highlight was the film 'Upside Down Wales' with George Smith. This mixed history and culture with clips of creative and inspiring climbing, and more importantly it was wonderfully funny. It was followed by 'The Sharp End', showing a group of American climbers visiting various locations and leaving their mark. One of the places they went was the spectacular sandstone towers in the Czech republic – I've often heard of the use of knotted slings for protection but it was quite something to see it on film.
Saturday night I attended the party with gusto, which had a surprisingly good DJ and absolutely no cheesy music. Sunday morning I awoke under a futon cover with an unwelcome (but not undeserved) hangover. In my confusion I walked the 20 minutes to the lecture theatre before realising the Steph Davis lecture was at the town hall back where I started. Steph was quite sweet and exudes a passion for just seeing what's possible, but is very sensible with it, she came across as very much not the stereotypical image of an adrenaline junkie despite her chosen pursuits of free soloing and B.A.S.E. jumping. The question and answer session offered an intriguing insight in her study of fear and how to not let it hold you back.
I saw all I'd thought I'd wanted to, but it's the nature of the festival that as it progresses and you gain real-time reviews from friends and new acquaintances, you become more inspired, often by subjects you'd never thought of. KMF is definitely worth a visit, not just for the content but as it provides the extended family that many of us are seeking.
Last year the Kendal Mountain Film Festival – KMFF - subtlety changed into the Kendal Mountain Festival - KMF. The symbolic dropping of the 'F' has not been at the expense of the previous focus of the event – Films – but more to celebrate the fact that the event itself is now much more about mountains and mountaineers. Many of the films shown at Kendal will be available on DVD at all good retailers, lectures by such luminaries of the world mountaineering scene as Reinhold Messner and Kenton Cool are much rarer events that are seldom likely to be packaged up under your Christmas tree; so I was keen to catch these two in particular.
Now I'll come clean – Kenton is an old mate of mine, Messner I'd never seen or met before.
Both lectures were in the Kendal Sports Centre, one half full, the other packed – I'll leave you to guess which. They were separated by about three hours in time but couldn't have been more different in terms of presentation and delivery. Messner was the complete package – beautiful photographs, video clips, stories of amazing ascents and all very professionally presented. In contrast Kenton gave the impression he had just put together a few thoughts and photos, which isn't surprising because that is exactly what he had done – I checked later. Messner's words were precise, ordered and well-rehearsed, Kenton's was a collection of loosely connected anecdotes jumping around from the Alps to the Himalaya almost randomly.
"Messner delivered a lecture that he had delivered many times before and didn't we know it. He peppered it with some extremely unnecessary self-justification – we know he is good, probably the best ever, however that is for us to know, and not to be told."
Messner on the other hand proved to be really rather boring. Through no fault of his own his stories are familiar to most people, however it would have been nice if he had tried to deliver something new. I haven't read many Messner books yet I was still aware of everything he told us. And a bit of humour or insight into characters would have spiced the thing up so much. Someone else commented that Peter Habeler (Messner's partner on many of his major ascents) gives superbly entertaining talks – well I think I have found who plays the straight man in this duo. Messner delivered a lecture that he had delivered many times before and didn't we know it. He peppered it with some extremely unnecessary self-justification – we know he is good, probably the best ever, however that is for us to know, and not to be told.
In spite of this disappointment, I think the organisers of the festival can feel rightly proud at having put on a fantastic program of films and lectures. In addition to the lectures I saw some excellent films (in particular the Andy Parkin – A Life in Adaptation, winner of the Jury's Special Prize) met many old friends, and generally had a great time.
To me the annual Kendal film festival has always been a good opportunity to catch up with seldom seen friends whilst gaining inspiration from the fantastic array of speakers and films that grace the stages and screens. But this year I almost ended up not going at all, mainly due to bad planning on my part but there was also the nagging feeling in my mind that this year's line-up was going to be the mediocre "same old, same old" tired out bunch who have been there numerous times before. Fortunately I was wrong. Very wrong in fact!
"Then there were the rock stars. Friday night saw me Committed with Dave Brown, Paul Diffley and James Pearson. Getting into the Groove with the Walk of Life. Or should that be the other way round?"
I had tickets for five or six of the lectures and films and I made it to all but one. Everything inspired me in it's own way but there were definitely some standouts. Andy Kirkpatrick is the main man who springs to mind. I'm no mountaineer myself and having been to some seriously dry lectures from some of the old guard in the past, I'd definitely had my (unfair) share of sleep inducing disappointments! I suppose I could never get my head around the fact that these people had experienced things that were truly amazing but on stage they seemed to be totally under whelmed by it. No sense of the magic came through; in fact you'd get more of a sense that they'd spent a month in a jigsaw convention rather than having made the first ascent of the North Face of the Moon. Kirkpatrick however was the antithesis of this. His "Broke back" lecture focused on man-love in the mountains... no, not that kind of man-love! More the intimate relationships that the mountains forge, those moments of suffering and misery spent in close confines which solidify a bond between two men that nothing else can. Funny, humble and honest in equal measures, he brought the house down and made a two hour gig feel like twenty minutes. A strong sense came through of the misery and the suffering juxtaposed with the feeling that he'd enjoyed every waking minute of that misery and would quite happily go back and do it all again. It's that feeling many of us get when we're out in the mountains and the chips are down. "Never again," you might think but within 20 minutes of getting back to the car all the pain and misery is forgotten and you're frothing at the mouth for more! Strange bunch aren't we?
"It's that feeling many of us get when we're out in the mountains and the chips are down. "Never again," you might think but within 20 minutes of getting back to the car all the pain and misery is forgotten and you're frothing at the mouth for more! Strange bunch aren't we? "
Then there were the rock stars. Friday night saw me Committed with Dave Brown, Paul Diffley and James Pearson. Getting into the Groove with the Walk of Life. Or should that be the other way round? I was really looking forward to this but it did leave me a little under whelmed. Maybe cutting edge climbing is suffering from over exposure? James came across well though, open and honest about his achievements whilst obviously proud of what he has done. The Groove portrays his relationship with hard and dangerous routes alongside the relationship with his girlfriend and his family. Not being much of a smoochy romantic myself (honest!) I found it all a little bit cringeworthy, but I did manage to resist the temptation to crawl under my chair. He did show his manly credentials though with a laser precise execution of what is obviously a tough, technical and bold piece of climbing. But it was all over a little too quickly, too easily and without drama to make knife edge viewing. Unlike the Walk of Life. Obviously this film had me wondering. E12? Well, that's out of this world really. So what is E12 like? Well I definitely felt the Hot Aches boys had captured the tension with this one. Headpoint number one, I knew he fell off. But two thirds of the way up, sketching, not smooth, not over in two moves, he's trying, fighting, fearing and then it happens! And it was still a shock, my palms were sweating, my mind on the edge. That's more like it! Unfortunately the actual ascent was more of an anti-climax. No voyeuristic pleasure at witnessing another "near death" fall, what kind of value for money is that!
As an aside, I can understand why the evening focused on James. He's a high profile climber at the moment but to me one film would have been enough. Having now seen the whole of Committed Volume 2 I think the Hot Aches boys missed out by not including the Grit Kids chapter on Friday evening. The brother/sister partnership of Pete and Katie Whittaker really do shine in this and the direct start to Braille Trail is amongst the best footage I have ever seen. Simply, if you haven't seen it, go and get it.
So there you go, some ramblings from/on the weekend. All in all it was great to experience the richly varied British climbing scene, catch up with new and old friends, share experiences and above all be inspired for some challenge and adventure of my own (hopefully without the faeces though Andy!) Bring on next year's festival, I'm sure to be back.
I'll have to be honest. I can't sit there and watch hours of films, even on a subject I'm interested in. Maybe I should be able to do. But I'd much prefer to watch a trailer of a film, get some idea of whether it is for me and then get a copy to watch later at my leisure. Time is precious.
All adventure films online for a download would be brilliant. But we aren't there just yet. Just imagine if there was an online archive of old climbing and mountaineering films, and all new DVD releases just a mouse click and a credit card payment away. It'll come.
I go to Kendal to meet and listen to people. I want to hear about their adventures first hand.
Why? Like many I have an adventurous and restless streak, and just like you I have to make a living, work, and in many cases have family commitments. That's not to say I don't have the time to go outdoors. It's just that when I do have the time, I'm sometimes either knackered or I just can't lift my sad and sorry ass from the couch. I need motivation and inspiration, and often it comes not from within me but from ...... photos, words (those darn words!), films and videos, the landscape I currently live in, but most of all from people; live and in the flesh.
I got my tickets: Karen Darke, Zoe Hart, Steph Davis, Andy K, Catherine Destivelle, the Boardman Tasker prize, a Woman's place discussion. I'm ambitious in my scheduling. But I also know that you can't walk a metre at the Kendal Mountain Festival without bumping into someone you know, and you have to talk, I like talking, and it's more than half of the reasons why I'm here.
"That's not to say I don't have the time to go outdoors. It's just that when I do have the time, I'm sometimes either knackered or I just can't lift my sad and sorry ass from the couch. I need motivation and inspiration, and often it comes not from within me but from photos, words, films and videos, the landscape I currently live in, but most of all from people; live and in the flesh."
Try and get to the toilet which is only 20m away and it takes three hours. Would I be able to fit all my lecture choices in between all the jibber jabbing. Time is precious; it's all we have left, until it stops. Don't waste it.
Karen Darke gets it.
Karen Darke experienced what many of us have experienced; a serious wobbler above the ground with dodgy gear. Many survive such epics, some don't. You pump out and panic, like a chain reaction, it only stops when you fall. if you are unlucky the gear rips and you are on the floor. For some, a new experience begins. Karen Darke was horizontal in a hospital bed, staring at the strip lights in the ceiling, with no movement or feeling below her shoulders.
What would you, think and feel?
Some drink beer and eat, growing in bulk they desensitize themselves from life. Chronic depression sets in. It's hard to know what you would do. Give up or go for it? But this is all we have, we must keep telling ourselves, rather than slip into the human condition of apathy and despair. It must be a difficult decision to decide to go for it and not give up.
Some do go for it. Since her life changed Karen Darke has crossed the Tien Shan and Karakoram mountains of Central Asia on a hand bike, hand cycled the length of the Japanese archipelago, sea kayaked the 1,200 mile length of the Canada – Alaska coastline, crossed the Indian Himalaya, skied the Valle Blanche on a sit ski, crossed the Greenland ice cap and climbed El Cap. Fancy that?
"Our own mind is our biggest obstacle to living and achieving our wildest aspirations," says Karen and these are not empty words, they mean something, she's living proof. If you get chance go see her, you won't be disappointed, she's an engaging and inspiration speaker with a strong story to tell.
Much of what passes for journalism in the climbing media is nothing of the sort, it's advertorial. Glowing written and photographic testimonials from friends of the subject designed to please. Candy-coated words, posed photographs, over-sized logos, friends of the bride saying how wonderful she is. Give me a break and stop insulting us.
"Ed pulled no punches, he asked questions that would make some squirm. The naive and over-sensitive would call Ed's approach bullying; to the informed, it is investigative journalism searching for the truth, but live and in the flesh.."
The hard questions are frequently not asked in our cash-poor and juvenile climbing media, usually at the risk of offending the subject, the subjects' friends, their sponsors and the celebrity obsessed. Put someone on the spot and the assembled throng cries 'foul'; some need their heroes high on a pedestal and they must not be allowed to fall. Consequently all we usually get is nothing we didn't know before and often a pack of lies, which are digested by the gullible and repeated as fact. It is hard these days to distinguish the truth from the hype and the spin.
Ed Douglas is a professional journalist and author, he's erudite, articulate and I learnt more from his interview with Boardman Tasker winner Andy Kirkpatrick than you could in the best written article; Andy's father, his complicated personal life; nothing was sacrosanct. Ed pulled no punches; he asked questions that would make some squirm. The naive and over-sensitive would call Ed's approach bullying; to the informed, it is investigative journalism searching for the truth, live and in the flesh. Andy enjoyed Ed's probing, he's mature, he gave back in kind, and for those who were listening, we were wiser. This kind of event should be filmed and broadcast. It has a value that I'm sure many would appreciate. I enjoyed it more than any climbing film I've watched.
I got see Andy's full lecture, Broke Back Mountaineer, later too. What an absolute breath of fresh air he is. His rapid-fire humour, demolition of sacred cows (don't mention the Bear G fellow) and his self-depreciation had us rolling in the aisles. He's under no illusions about himself, he's real. He's not the most prolific of mountaineers (see UKC news page soon!), especially recently with work commitments, but what he has done, suffered and enjoyed (to Andy suffering can be enjoyment), and how he tells it, is magnificent. A well-deserved winner of the prestigious Boardman Tasker Prize for mountain literature, and with the winnings, £3,000, Andy said he could now send his children to a private school!
The Boardman Tasker Prize for mountain literature shortlist included:
Later I went to see Catherine Destiville. How could I not? If you are my age you grew up with Vertical magazine. Vertical magazine was the most influential climbing magazine of the 1980's; its influence on a generation of climbers, photographers and publishers was huge, and not all good. Vertical magazine introduced the climbing celebrity to many, or rather created the climbing celebrity, the overly posed photograph usually featuring only two points of contact with all other points extended in the air like a ballerina, and one can hardly forget the famed Vertical girls – usually bikini-clad and sometimes not even that, in each issue. Destiville was made a star by the glossy Vertical magazine as it chronicled her, in glorious full-bleed technicolour, redpointing Chouca - a very hard climb in France - , winning World cup indoor competitions, bouldering in Font and scaling many Alpine faces, often solo. Mention Destiville to any climber who was active in the 80's and they will swoon, their heart will quicken, and yes that goes for many women. Catherine Destiville is an icon of World climbing.
She is talented, beautiful and like her American counterpart, Lynn Hill has achieved and experienced so much in the vertical world, it almost makes you green. Au Dela des Cimes, her film, was stunning, as long as you ignored Brian Blessed's overdramatic commentary. The Q+A session with her was over too soon. At 48 she is still going strong in the mountains although as she said, her priority these days is her ten-year old son, Victor.
"These are women who have overcome barriers by buying that plane ticket or getting in their car and getting out there in the wild and having the time of their lives."
I missed A Year in the life of An Alpine Princess with Zoe Hart and Steph Davis's Free, Solo and Base. No worries I could catch up with them at A Women's Place, a discussion panel with Zoe Hart, Steph Davis, Karen Darke and Lucy Creamer, hosted by Louise Thomas. Many subjects were discussed, but understandably with the time constraints, only superficially. These were six women who have achieved much climbing and in other adventure sports. Doing, not talking is their forté, especially when it comes to the tricky subject of 'women's issues'. These are women who have overcome barriers by buying that plane ticket or getting in their car and getting out there in the wild and having the time of their lives. All are inspirational and that is what many people need. If they can do it, so can I. So I'll save you a long discourse on what was said as its time to go climbing, and I need to buy a ticket somewhere, anywhere. I need an adventure, I just need to leave this bullshit behind for a while, it surrounds us and is hard to ignore. Thanks Kendal Mountain Festival and all who sail with her for giving me a kick up the backside, I needed it.