Sunday, 2 March 2014

ShAFF review: Wideboyski & The Road from Karakol


Everyone knows what to expect from the Wide Boyz these days - their movie about Century Crack has been invested into the pantheon of Great British climbing films. Their American adventures were shown at last year's Sheffield Adventure Film Festival and so as not to miss out again, the Boyz have got two new gruelling, crack fighting escapades committed to celluloid for this year.

Credit: HotAches

I had the opportunity to review the shorter of the two - Wideboyski - which covers the charismatic pair's pursuit of Polish and Czech sandstone towers. To add a little spice to this eastern European crack-attack - as if wrestling with off-widths wasn't spicy enough - Tom Randall and Pete Whittaker had to learn to use knotted ropes and slings as protection. Trusting a knotted rope to hold a whipper takes some cajones. 

"One in three who fall break a leg," Pete nervously laughs at the start of the film, recalling conversations with the locals.

Credit: HotAches
The scene then changes to Tom testing their new "gear" - a series of different sized knots in ropes. Most of us get nervous trad climbing; throwing hard moves, getting pumped, greasing off the holds, our minds flash back to that last piece of gear we placed, several feet below us now, and we try to find comfort in how solid it felt when we wiggled it in. Now imagine it wasn't a nice new friend, securely wedged into a bomber position, but actually a flexing ball of nylon. Now you've got some idea of why one in three who fall break a leg.

This film is not just about local ethics, scares and off-width battles, however, but also a showcase for the local areas. The settings in both Poland and the Czech Republic are stunning - huge trees surrounding towers of sandstone, seemingly remote but warm and inviting. 

Credit: HotAches
If you enjoyed watching Tom and Pete travel the US and climbing our colonial cousins' hardest and best cracks, you'll enjoy Wideboyski and I would hazard a guess that you'll enjoy Wide Boyz II - Slender Gentlemen as well. I'd also book onto Tom and Pete's lecture, to hear about their adventures first hand. I'm certainly hoping to go along.

The Road from Karakol

All epic adventure films normally have one thing in common - a team of people working together to overcome the challenge, usually becoming much closer in the process. This is where The Road from Karakol stands apart - as it's one man's travelogue of several weeks on the roads, back roads, dirt tracks and no tracks of Kyrgyzstan. He is solo, only his bike and his camera to keep him company.

Kyle Dempster did what most of us would find terrifying. He decided to cycle around a former Soviet satellite nation in central Asia completely alone, while climbing as many of the region's impressive snow covered peaks as possible. Terrifying at first, knowing that should anything go wrong rescue would be very far away or not coming at all, but it quickly becomes liberating, throwing away the shackles of every day life and simply going on a big adventure. 

Kyle's journey starts with a culture shock: families carving existences out of yurts in the foothills; vast, old, concrete soviet installations crumbling in the distance, abandoned and forgotten; army checkpoints manned by vodka sodden soldiers who demand another drinking partner before granting passage; and once well-travelled roads leading to derelict towns and eventually wilderness, petering out on the edge of civilisation.

At this edge, when the tarmac ends and is replaced by stone, dirt, fields and rivers, Kyle doesn't stop, turn around and find another way, he just keeps on going. He picks up his bike and carries it on his shoulders if he has to. He gets naked and wades across rushing rivers, taking his life into his own hands and occasionally throwing it open to fate. He sees that mountain in the distance, the one that was once just a pin on a map, and he has a singular, simple purpose and he executes it with smile, no matter what the road, weather or circumstances throw at him. 

Apart from the fascinating country, what keeps this film entertaining, interesting and emotional is the protagonist and his relationship with his camera. Not only to film the beautiful scenery and the people of Kyrgyzstan, Kyle uses his camera as a diary, narrating his day's journey and hardship, his enjoyment and freedom, to make us all jealous but also so we can understand why he's doing what he's doing. He is a funny and honest narrator, catching you off-guard with his witty observations and fresh perspective. While you might begin thinking Kyle is a little nuts, you finish admiring the man and his journey.

I'll end this blog with a quote from the man himself, and then you can decide if you want to go and see The Road from Karakol at ShAFF…

Here are the facts.
I chose a bike over a partner.
I chose a road over a base camp.
And that's what made all the difference.

Here's what I believe.
Real adventure is not polished.
It's not the result of some marketing budget.
There's no hashtag for it.
It burns brightest on the maps edges but it exists in all of us.
It exists at the intersection of imagination and the ridiculous.
You have to have faith.
It will find you there.
And when it does, you have to remember… 
there's just one question.
In this life, when the road comes to an end, will you keep peddling?