The Kendal Mountain Festival 2016Events
By Duncan McCallum // Photography by Kevin Moran
There is always a sense of great anticipation heading to a film festival and none for me in recent times has been so anticipated as the Kendal Mountain (Film) Festival of 2016. As a past recipient of an award (3rd Best Black and White in 1984) I went on from this lofty height to be involved in 2 Bafta-winning TV programmes and a life behind and in front of the camera on mainstream BBC and C4 documentaries. So that is my excuse.
In the past, mountaineering film festivals were the preserve of long-forgotten filmmakers such Leo Dickenson, and the films were more often notable for their value as pieces of recorded history rather than their artistic or creative merit, but have things changed?
Jon Griffith’s film Link Sar, the story of an obsessive series of attempts to climb a very difficult Himalayan peak in alpine style, is the closest to an old-style expedition recording. It is an honest and straightforward testament to how you can use lightweight gear at high altitude and make a great story, as long as the characters are compelling.
The two stand-out films were, for me, King of the Mountain, a short road-biking film, and The Accord, an Icelandic surf movie. Both reached new heights of storytelling and cinematography. There was much talk about the new trend in brand-led films and the compromises specialist filmmakers have to make when dealing with mainstream broadcasters and a marketing message. Although the two strands are different, the potential compromises are similar i.e. modifying the content in order to satisfy the demands from funders, a big audience and investors.
And this tension is real and well justified. As adventure filmmakers and people interested in positive representations of our sports and outdoors culture, we are all tired of ‘celebrity jeopardy’ and faux danger, and in some cases plainly faked or dangerous practices just rigged for entertainment value. The festival is the chance to showcase adventure and mountain films made by committed filmmakers who are invested emotionally and spiritually in the genres.
We constantly hear the pleading from broadcasters and festival organisers calling for deep compelling stories and narrative. Leo Houlding’s latest offering in the big wall series, Mirror Wall, makes an attempt and there was genuine amazement at Matt Pycroft’s nice photography. Houlding’s old filmmaking sparring partner Alastair Lee was again in the frame this season with a feature that won best climbing film, Blockheads, further fostering his image as the grand duke of climbing filmmaking, producing the ‘most photographically creative work to date’.
As a filmmaker, what are you willing to accept as the inevitable compromises of making films on ‘brand message’, or being sanitised by popularism, which are acceptable to your commercial of broadcast masters?
It is a matter of perspective, and motivation. We are currently watching some really beautiful brand-sponsored films by the likes of Salomon, Arc’teryx and Patagonia. They are standouts within the mountaineering world and they are evolving. No longer are these films simple motivational or brand infomercials but now seem to be replacing the traditional broadcasters as the principal supporters of creative adventure filmmaking. And whilst the ski industry seems slightly behind the curve, the more enlightened producers are happy to see multiple branding in their funded films, realising that it is more about the entire movement than an individual jacket. How this evolves will be very interesting to watch.