Monday, 26 November 2012

European Outdoor Film Tour review

If the goosebumps that kept rising and falling on my arms could be read like braille during the UK premier of the European Outdoor Film Tour (EOFT) they would have said something along the lines of "absolutely stunning", "oh my gosh" and "wow". It's a good job my goosebumps don't write these blogs because this would simply be a list of superlatives as long as the arms on which they emanate.

The EOFT's UK premier proved popular, with a packed Dancehouse theatre in Manchester sheltering a couple of hundred patrons from the cold, wet wintery night outside, and serving up a feast for the eyes that took them on an adrenaline filled jaunt around the world in nine short films. Following an introduction, the play button was hit and we all relaxed into our seats for two hours of non-stop action.

The screen kicked into life with an amazing display, and unusual mix, of skill and artistry in a film called The Shapeshifter. A small kayak was thrown around in white water rapids that seemed too big and too violent to be part of a river. On first glance it appeared to be uncontrollable for such a small boat but it quickly became apparent that the pilot was playing with the waves and using the constant break as a ramp to do impossible mid-air barrel roles. Slow motion cameras captured some incredible scenes, but then things got better. After dark, a flare was deployed on the back of the kayak, which lit up the froth and water in a deep, blood red glow, giving the appearance of a boat gliding on fire. All too soon, the film was over and we were able to catch our breath before the next film kicked in.

Film after film, we were treated to some of the most amazing cinematography I've ever seen, accompanied by thumping tunes and stories of peril, sacrifice and triumph. One highlight was Birdmen, the story of the development of wingsuit flying. As a progression of base jumping, the relatively new pursuit has been growing and getting more daring year on year. Simply gliding a mile or two away from a cliff before deploying a parachute had become "boring", in the narrator's words, so ever more dangerous feats were being attempted. The shots of people gliding meters above the ground, down tight gulleys, between trees and narrowly missing the tops of cliff faces had the audience gasping, ooh-ing and aah-ing throughout. 

Another highlight and possibly my favourite film of the evening was The Shark's Fin, which followed Conrad Anker, Jimmy Chin and Renan Ozturk as they made an attempt on Mount Meru in the Indian Himalaya. The hardships the team endured as they spent nearly three weeks on the side of the mountain were extraordinary. Having come a mere 100m from the peak, only to be thwarted by the threat of severe hypothermia and frostbite, they were forced to retreat. Both Jimmy and Renan vowed never to return to The Shark's Fin, but Conrad had been thinking about and planning his ascent for over two decades, so he was not about to give up on his dream, having adopted it from his former mentor Mugs Stump after he died in a mountaineering accident. Just three years later, and following a serious accident that left Renan with a broken spine, the team was back together to make a successful ascent of the mountain. The whole film was an inspiration from start to finish.

It's difficult not to mention every film, as I could write a full review on each of them, but there are a few others I'd like to highlight. One of these was The Crossing, which followed a pair of Australian adventure seekers on a haphazard 1,000 mile trek across Victoria Island in the far north of Canada. It was the first time such a journey had been attempted and the pair found themselves in all sorts of trouble, before finally succeeding and reaching the far coast, after a hilarious and at times ridiculous journey. Then there was Where The Trail Ends, a stunning mountain biking film that sees riders flying down near vertical slopes, traversing tight ridges, leaping off cliff faces and occasionally crashing into the ground in a cloud of dust and pain.

Photo by Franz Faltermaier for E.O.F.T.

Finally, to wrap up the evening, a film called Sketchy Andy was shown. This followed slack liner Andy Lewis (pictured above) as he turned his fearless nature and lightning quick reflexes to base jumping. The reason for his nickname quickly became apparent, as he undertook ridiculous high lining feats (where a slack line is strapped between two mountain peaks hundreds, if not thousands of feet above the ground) without the aid of a safety rope. With the wind howling, the line wobbling and Andy precariously balancing, all could of ended in disaster had he slipped. The audience was held on tenterhooks for 20 minutes, the only reassurance that he wasn't going to die being the fact that they had made a light-hearted film about his exploits. Had the protagonist met his end (which appeared likely on numerous occasions throughout the film), I think the tone would have been somewhat darker. For example, when Andy back flips off a cliff only a few hundred feet up, he gets tangled in his parachute and only just manages to free himself in the nick of time, with a deft barrel role. Sketchy indeed. 

The European Outdoor Film Tour only has two more dates in England before moving on to mainland Europe. It will hit Bristol on November 27th and London on the 28th. Check out the website for more details. And if you can't get along to one of those showings, order yourself the DVD. Trust me, it's worth it.