A shortish essay on Adventure, Freedom and Mountain Film Festivals by LMFF Festival Director Greg Hackett
With our 2023 event just days away I've found myself in something of a rabbit-hole situation thinking about the real purpose of what it is that we do here. Let's give this a go...
It started yesterday as I pieced together a programme of films for my own Community Event which is to be held in a pub on Wimbledon Common on March 1st. As you may have noticed, this year we have invited groups, clubs and communities to host and stream their own mini- Film Festivals as a way to raise funds for their clubs or other good causes, or simply to have fun. Quite a few are getting well into it and as this is Year One for Community Events we are delighted with those efforts and we were not going to miss the chance to do one ourselves!
I recognised (not for the first time) as I drew up the list of short films that the use of the word 'Mountain' in our brand was potentially misleading and perhaps something I would need to explain to our small audience. There are of course mountain films/climbing films, but there are also base-jumping, swimming, cycling, running, surfing, nature and environment films. There's even one about the infamous US/Mexico wall. So what does that have to do with adventure? Well let me try to explain...
I think you have to go way back to the early Mountain Film Festivals which were of course Banff (1976) and then Kendal (1980). I once heard John Porter, a co-founder of Kendal say something like 'It was a way of raising some cash to pay for our next climbing trip', and no doubt this passion was mirrored in the film choices. Both those festivals have grown hugely and have broadened their content out from just climbing and mountaineering to include all kinds of disciplines and a range of themes that I would term 'barriers to adventure" (I'll get back to that). And indeed there are now many more similar festivals all over the world.
By the time we popped up with our event in 2020, Kendal was probably showing more films about metaphorical mountains than it was about actual mountains, and we saw no reason why we couldn't adopt the word 'Mountain' too. Of course there was one obvious issue which is that unlike Banff, Kendal or Fort William, London is not located in a mountainous national park. But then neither is the pancake-esque Dutch Mountain Film Festival so off we merrily went. A metaphor is a metaphor wherever you live right?
Merrily that is until the pandemic hit, but let's not go there today .. except to say that being pushed into running an online festival made us look at things differently and has ultimately led to this idea that if communities organise their own events locally they will travel less (better for the planet) and spend less (better for them) than if we ran one stressful central event (better for us), which was the original plan. And if it means we can support local projects, even better.
Which brings us back to our own modest Community Event in Wimbledon.. How am I going to explain the inclusion of American Scar - this film about the US/Mexico border wall?
It comes down to freedom. Freedom is being able to do what you want - a basic human right. The way I see it, adventure is a sort of doubling-down on freedom. Not only do you do what you want, but you do something that you didn't even know that you could do, or even something that you didn't even know that ANYONE could do. So if you accept that adventure is the ultimate expression of freedom, then it naturally follows that any attempt to limit your freedoms is also an attempt to limit your opportunities for adventure, and vice versa. Hence the havoc on Dartmoor.
These are what I would call those 'barriers to adventure' I mentioned earlier. Here's a list: Homo/transphobia, Climate Change, Discrimination, Buildings, Border Control, Land Ownership, Sexism, Disability, Racism, Poverty, Mental Health, Abuse, Infrastructure, Addiction. You get the idea and you can probably add your own.
The films that you see these days in adventure and mountain festivals explore these themes courageously and therefore celebrate freedom. For many, overcoming these barriers is necessary to having adventures and the efforts of people to take on these challenges are as brave if not braver in their own way, and as apparently insurmountable, as tackling a Himalayan peak.
So a film about a border wall and its impact on our environment, the theatre in which adventure happens, is a film about a world in which adventure is under threat.
The final film that we will be showing in Wimbledon is called Into the Mountain which is a film about a South American woman base-jumper who has a strong bond with her local peak.
It's a matter of opinion of course but for me base-jumping is the pinnacle of freedom in terms of adventure sports. The idea of leaping unattached, letting go, flying off a cliff. It must be pure escapism and intensely freeing. But I couldn't do it. And there you have it. Fear. Perhaps the biggest barrier to adventure of all. And how do we overcome fear? Well, one way to overcome fear is through the power of community, by pulling together, sharing and supporting each other. And in the case of adventure sports, running, cycling, swimming, climbing and so on.. helping each other build the confidence to get out there and do it. Do it more and more, do it higher and higher, do it further and further, do it stronger and stronger, do it faster and faster. And keep doing it until you can't do it anymore.
And THAT is what we want to support through our Community Events.
Or you could just raise some cash for your next climbing trip...
And lastly, let me leave you with this. If you haven't seen the film Empire of Light I would recommend it. I could see within it an obvious connection with our films of freedom and with adventure. The film is set in 1981 and there you can see sexism, mental health and racism going unchallenged and unnoticed, which of course it still is. And where do the film characters go to help them process this? Into a cinema of course, to see a film. To escape.
Have a great LMFF.