Kendal Mountain Festival Review – Oliver Hill

This was my first film festival. The only reason I went was to attend the Premiere of the Long Hope Route. The first surprise was that not only did I have to book my accommodation but that I also had to pay for every event, not cheap. The Festival website details the programmes and it was all very confusing at first, but then with a bit of studying all was revealed, a bit like mastering a new climbing guide book. The event lasted from Thursday to Sunday with the real programme starting on Friday evening. Saturday is the main day and Sunday allows for catching all the films that you have missed.

To maximise cost effectively seeing as many films as possible I bought the 2 day film pass for £40. The films are grouped together into modules of approximately four films each for a total of 2 and a half hours viewing time. Typically each one is available each day: climbing, mountaineering, adrenaline, snow and board, plus culture and environment, bike, free flight, wild water and adventure and exploration. All quite complicated and including 90 films chosen out of 300. In between there were about 20 special lectures by famous people at around £15 per event. So you can see that you need to plan well. The events took place in two areas around the Brewery Art Centre and in The Dojo a 20 minute walk away. Apart from the Long Hope I only noticed one event I really wanted to attend, namely Lynn Hill’s lecture. Unfortunately it was booked out quite in advance of the festival. Sour grapes wise, her presentation reportedly was not as good as her climbing.

After missing the correct exit from the M6 and going three times around the infuriating one way system that is Kendal I found my B& B and inspected The Brewery Arts Centre. It is great but like the programme requires more study to minimise confusion. I could have said avoid, but that would be unrealistic. I was due to meet Ed Drummond. He was, my climbing partner from Bristol University and famous for the first ascents of many classic lines in UK from about 1965 to 1975, including The Long Hope route which was being premiered that evening. The meeting was due at 2 pm to prepare for his talk the following day, as he wanted me to be a guest speaker. We eventually found each other but did not really get around to his presentation. So we took in the premiere of the Long Hope Route where by chance I sat next to Dave Turnbull who I had helped find his way on the First Free Ascent in 1997. The film was fantastic, much better than I had expected, an artistic mixture of interviews of Ed and I on the 1970 first ascent, E4/5 5c A2 over 7 days; John Arran and Dave on the first free ascent, E7 6c F8a+ over 4 separate days over three months; and Dave Macleod and Andy Turner in 10 hours following 3 years of preparation, E11 7a F8b+. Three styles 41 years apart, each the hardest adventure route in the UK at their time. The film really worked because of Paul Diffley’s work in preparation, filming and editing, mixing old pictures with new filming and a build up to the successful final one day ascent. Pathos was added by Ed’s pilgrimage back to the best and hardest route of his life as he calmly and heroically coped with Parkinson’s disease.

I had dinner with Ed and his family that night and over a beer was shown his agenda for his talk next morning. By then it was really a bit late to join in any of the festivities at the festival centre.

Next day I arrived bright and early to find that the planned film studio was full so I went to the next door Culture and Environment to find a Human Planet film I had seen a year before on television, bummer. So, to the Adrenaline where I should have started. It was not on my pre-planning but each film was great, exciting and novel. The Race for the Nose, speed climbing up El Capitan, whilst admitted by one winner as being an utterly stupid genre, with which I completely agree, was nevertheless, highly entertaining, gripping and skillfull. Parking Garage, a 3 minute clip, was a hilarious spoof on a Himalayan ascent, and brilliantly acted. I Believe I Can Fly by a young French couple was absorbing, spontaneous and thrilling, all about jumping off the top of a cliff and flying down close to the rock. Sketchy Andy high lining: rope walking high up to the uninitiated, and base jumping were in similar vein, crazy, young, reckless, admirable and remarkable.

In the afternoon I took in Climbing 1 the highlight of which was Vertical Sailing, Greenland, the two Belgian Favorese brothers, Ben Ditto and Sean Villenueve the climbing team who were sailed there by 80 year old Captain Bob Shipton to climb the Impossible Wall a 3,500 foot vertical granite wall. This was certainly one of the best films for me, for the spontaneity, humour and friendliness of the five, whilst on sight climbing a very difficult new route and suffering seasickness. Juxtaposed afterwards was Climbing Elements a more commercial, solid climbing film of a very hard boulder, sport climb and big wall. Whilst clearly the climbing was of an extreme standard, the direction was not, not enough humanity, or excitement. Perhaps it was a bit too Germanic, from the Austrian world champion Fischhuber. Of course if we were Austrian we might have been better pleased. A Brazilian cartoon of climbing boy meets climbing girl was sweet and provoking, just missing being relegated to the Children’s Hour, but still I remember it. Maybe simplicity is the true art.

Sfinga, a Slovenian film, tells the story of a big wall with a sphinx-like top profile. It shares similarities and dissimilarities with The Long Hope Route. I found it interesting as it told the story of the first aid climb in the ‘60s followed by the first free climb in the ‘80s. Both are north walls and share a crux flake, the guillotine. It was very amateurish and long, but showed another culture, Yugoslavian, a bit backward, much like I remembered when I went to Croatia. It was popularly voted the worst film. Harsh, at a festival you need variation, art is difference, contrast. Thus you can broaden your mind.

In Panorama the Basque Pou brothers climb the extremely technical and overhanging Tre Cima di Lavaredo in the Dolomites. Long, run out and with several pitches up to F8c. Amazing, it is just as well The Long Hope Route is so far away and protected by sea and vomiting fulmars. It was much better than Climbing Elements but needing more to be worth buying rather than just seeing once.

The last climbing film I saw was two young Brits making a first ascent of the gigantic Alaskan Moonflower Buttress on Mount Hunter. A good film that was unfortunately cut short by my need to get to Johnny Dawes’ lecture 20 minutes walk away. I arrived to find the talk postponed by 30 minutes. I decided to abort the lecture and instead walk back to see the afternoon snow programme. There I saw Solitaire a very artistic ski and board journey from Ecuador to Patagonia. Well more accurately skiing shots in inaccessible and highly photogenic places round about there. The film was tied together by a poetic story line told in the manner of a Patagonian shepherd in Argentinian Spanish with English subtitles. Surprisingly long at 50 minutes, it is a film that will retain interest for both the scenery and laid back skiing for many viewings. The rest of the snow films showed huge skill but great similarity: down then presumably up, repeated many times.

The last film/lecture I saw was Cold the story of the first winter ascent of Gasherbrum 2 by an East European, Italian and American. It was a story of cold and suffering, surprise surprise, of being avalanched and surviving, only to panic and run out and fall down a crevasse. The talk by Moro and Cory Richards was hugely interesting and inspiring.

A key part of the festival were the special lectures. Some were sold out early. It would seem sensible to stage these again on a different day. From other people’s reports some of the presentations were disappointing. Being a good sportsman does not necessarily go along with being a good performer. I was present at two, Cold by Moro and Richards; and Ed Drummond. The first was excellent. The latter must have been painful for anyone who had not seen the Long Hope film. If they had, they might have perceived it as being a logical and extremely artistic conclusion, courageous realism. So Johnny Dawes thought, and who would argue with him?

The winners of the Kendal Festival were:

Grand Prize
Crossing the Ditch
Director: Greg Quail
Quail Television Pty Ltd and Justin Jones

Judges Special Prize
Ice Revolution
Producer and Director Peter Mortimer
Sender Films

People’s Choice
The Long Hope
Producer and Director: Paul Diffley
Hot Aches Productions

Best Climbing Film
Race for the Nose
Producer and Director: Peter Mortimer
Sender Films

Best Mountaineering Film
Producer: Carlos Bria Lahoz
Director: Gerard Montero Coromines
Alkimia Produccions

Best Mountain Adventure Film
Vertical Sailing Greenland
Producer and Director: Sean Villanueva O’ Driscoll

Best Mountain Culture
Mi Chacra
Producer and Director: Jason Burlage

Best Environment Film
Producer and Director: Frank Wolf

Best Adrenaline Film
Sketchy Andy
Producer and Director: Peter Mortimer
Sender Films

Best Short Film
On Assignment
Producer and Director: Renan Ozturk
Camp 4 Collective

Adventure Film Academy Award
Reflections on 60
Directors: Toby Adamson and Richard Dixon

Adventure Photo Academy Award
Ben Adeline for Mountain Landscape
Andy Nelson for Outdoor Action

Of these winners I saw only four plus half of Encordades. I missed Crossing the Ditch kayaking between Australia and New Zealand and Ice Revolution because I am not into ice and water; because I did not know they were especial; but mostly because there is only so much time. Of the 90 films I only saw about 20. For me the best I saw was Vertical Sailing because it was so spontaneous and fun filled and the ‘best’ sort of climbing style, ground up, actually boat up; and the Long Hope Route. Solitaire has caught my imagination for its verbal and visual beauty and I will get it for Xmas.

When I went to Kendal I did not expect to enjoy the films. I did. I found them exhilarating, thought provoking. I must congratulate the management for their selections. Next year I will go back, hopefully with some friends, hopefully to meet old friends and find new. Bored, I will not be.

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