That means that I get to watch all the films that are submitted to the festival each year – and we're talking literally hundreds – and to choose which ones to include in the festival comp. Below is a quick summary of what's in store this year:
Premières: 8 World, 6 European and 6 British (still plenty to be confirmed)
It's a Mountain Film Festival so mountains and climbing, as usual, feature heavily this year. There are two three-hour Climbing Programmes and two three-hour Mountaineering Programmes!
'The Wildest Dream' and 'The Asgard Project' have to be two of the biggest films of the year. The former is the long awaited and eagerly anticipated Everest saga, finally on film. Conrad Anker finds Mallory's body, Conrad and Leo Houlding then head off to Everest to climb the mountain in the same style and equipment as Mallory and Irvine would have done. It's an interesting documentary on an interesting subject with a good dose of stunning mountain photography thrown in for good measure.
'The Asgard Project' I can't tell you much about as it's still literally on the cutting room floor (it's actually in bite sized chunks on Alastair Lee's computer!). Al, although not actually from Kendal, seems to have the audience, and more recently the judges, well and truly wired. He's won awards at Kendal now for as long as I can remember going to the festival. 'The Asgard Project' is his latest film. Also featuring festival patron Leo Houlding if the trailer is anything to go by, we're in for an absolute treat as Leo and the team attempt to make the first free ascent of Mount Asgard's North Face on the remote and beautiful Baffin Island.
VIDEO: The Asgard Project
The climber of the year has to be American Alex Honnold who made audacious solo ascents of Moonlight Buttress and the regular route on Half Dome before spending a month in the UK making easy work of many of the Gritstone's finest test pieces. Alex features in some incredible jaw-dropping and palm-sweating footage in a film called 'Alone On The Wall'. It is a 24 minute film commissioned by the National Geographic. The film makers, Sender Films, have produced this and two other short films, instead of their annual climbing DVD (for anybody looking in the programme it is listed as 'First Ascent – The Series – Alone On The Wall'. Team America in action on the Gritstone is featured in a segment of 'Progression' from Big Up Productions (Dosage Series, King Lines).
I've often wondered why nobody is making climbing-porn? By that I mean films featuring nothing but aesthetically photographed moves, locations and people, set to decent music, with no discernible story-line or narration. It works for skiing, and to a lesser degree, kayaking and mountain biking so why not climbing? Right at the last minute a French film maker called Seb Montaz submitted 'Hand In Hand', which turned out to be just such a film. It's most likely not an award winner, but it's an interesting experiment and one that we'll hopefully see some more of in future. Interestingly Alastair Lee has submitted another film which almost fits the bill. 'Widdop Wall' actually throws a story line in for good measure, but is stunningly filmed and has a decent soundtrack to boot!
Talking of ski-porn 'Signatures' will quite possibly be a contender for best ski-porn film of all time. Filmed entirely in Japan it is a shade long at 50 minutes, but doesn't ever drag, with enough spectacular ski footage and haunting songs to shake a very large stick at! Breath taking. Another ski film to watch out for is 'Freezing Level', in which ex pro snowboarder Euan Southcott examines the impact of global warming on his sport in a pleasantly understated manner.
Every year there are a clutch of films that highlight just how hard-core and gnarly some people are. The fact that they take a video camera with them on their trips provides not only a window into their world, but also reinforces just how hard core they really are, with shots often requiring heaps of set-up time that they could probably do without whilst battling to survive whatever grim conditions they are facing at the time. One film this year entirely redefines the term hard-core. 'Solo' was actually screened on the BBC (and aired as 'Alone On The Ocean' for some reason) so will have been seen by some. If you missed it, make sure you catch it at the festival. In a nutshell an incredibly adventurous sea kayaker attempts to paddle from Australia to New Zealand. Powerful and gripping stuff that will guarantee an audience leaving shaking their heads in disbelief.
The Free Flight Programme promises to be a strong contender for the best two hours of film at the festival this year. 'Journey To The Center' featured at last year's festival, but never made it into the main programme, simply receiving a couple of screenings in The Warehouse, and also escaping the judges notice due to its late arrival. It's a fascinating film about three BASE jumpers travelling to and jumping into The Heavenly Pit, the world's deepest cave in China, unknown to the Western world until only a few years ago!
Following this is 'Birdman Of The Karakoram'. Al Hughes has a long list of award winning films to his name including 'Waterfall Kayak', the first ever white water kayaking film, and 'Stone Monkey'. His latest effort is as close to the complete package a film maker could produce as possible. He joined paragliding maestro John Sylvester on a series of tandem flights in the Himalayas. Hanging beneath John with his video camera he narrates the flights with a truly nail-biting commentary. Al partook in, filmed, wrote and produced this film! The music and editing in this film was by Ray Saunders.
VIDEO: Birdman of the Karakoram
If it's films profiling or remembering people you like there are a number to look out for in addition to 'The Wildest Dream'. 'The Ditch' and 'To The Rainbow' both feature climber Paul Pritchard, the former on a raft trip in Tasmania, and the latter, returning to climbing with none other than Johnny Dawes in the Llanberis Slate Quarries. Johnny features in two other films this year: the World Première of 'Welsh Connections', by Bamboo Chicken (Dave Brown and Llynwen Griffiths – Dave used to be one half of Hot Aches Productions – 'E11', 'Committed'), and 'Slate Monkeys' (Paul Diffley of Hot Aches). There's also a poignant short film in memory of Paul Williams, by UKClimbing film competition winner Alison Stockwell, called 'Remembering Paul Williams'.
Inspiring figures overcoming adversity are never in short supply at Kendal. This year's line up includes a great film from Hot Aches Productions about one-handed Scottish climber Kev Shields, called 'Single Handed'. 'The Blind Skier's Edge' features all-round adventurer and Everest summiteer Eric Weinhenmayer developing a new method of teaching blind people to ski, whilst the above-mentioned 'The Ditch' and 'To The Rainbow' both feature Paul Pritchard, who has made a remarkable recovery from a brain injury he received in a climbing accident in Tasmania.
Lastly, for inspiring wildlife and landscape cinematography 'Wild Balkans' is a superb film focusing on an area best known for its conflict and war, the very reasons that it has remained so un-spoilt for such a long time.
Every film in the competition is there on its own merit and is eminently watchable. The above summary is simply a taste of the films that people will be talking about over the weekend. Your personal favourite may not even be listed above, so go and visit the programme, read up on all the films, and get yourself along for an absolute treat.
Easily accessible from the M6 and by train and there are plenty of accommodation options in and around the town but you need to be on your toes as they fill up very quickly over the Mountain Festival weekend.
For all your questions, accomodation and travel needs go to www.golakes.co.uk here you will find all the information you should need for your visit to Cumbria, alternatively call the accommodation booking line on 0845 450 1199.