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Terry Abraham's Life on the Mountains

Updated: Jun 10

The excitement around the release of Terry Abraham's Life of a Mountain: Helvellyn can be felt across the length and breadth of his beloved Cumbria. The November 7th premiere of the film at Zeffirelli's in Ambleside was an immediate sell-out. LMFF is thrilled to be broadcasting a live stream of the event - film, speeches and all - for an audience the world over. It really is the mountain film event of the year!

Helvellyn is the third and final instalment of Terry's Lake District Life of a Mountain trilogy which has already featured Scafell Pike (2014) and Blencathra (2017). In other words, for the best part of a decade Terry has devoted himself to capturing these fells on film, in all seasons, day and night. The results are breath-taking, touching and characterful, with many famous faces appearing throughout.

Terry invited us to send just three questions to his 'office' (one of the many great pubs in the area) and here are his answers, which provide much insight into this talented, unique and self-taught filmmaker.

Terry Abraham camping out in the snow overnight.
Wild camping ignited Terry's passion for film

QUESTION 1: Was there a light-bulb moment when you realised you could actually be a filmmaker?

I wouldn’t say there was a specific moment but when I began taking a cheap camcorder up on the fells and filming scenes from my wild camps, it re-ignited a passion I’ve always had for film.  From a young age I always dreamt of becoming a filmmaker but my disadvantaged background and life in general put paid to any such ambitions. 

I guess I inadvertently fell onto the path I’m on now. A combination of a love for the outdoors and film along with a hunger to learn and  develop my filmmaking skills after a health scare, propelled me onwards. The democratisation of the internet for amateur filmmakers, reaching new audiences and more besides all combined at a certain point in time - there was a perfect storm which drew me in. 

QUESTION 2: Would you ever describe yourself as an artist?

I was considered a talented artist from a young age! Through drawing and painting at least. At the time, government grants were available to disadvantaged children and my mother and grandparents made the most of all that, pushing me into after school classes and doing courses far and wide to help me. 

It never really interested me to be honest. Even then, I was bloody-minded about what I wanted to do when it came to art. But my heart always lay in film. 

I’ve been called all sorts of things in my life (not always complimentary!) but in recent years I have indeed been labelled an artist. It's flattering but I try not to take it too seriously. "A visual laureate of Lakeland" was one quote. It’s all nice but ultimately I’m just following my heart and doing what I enjoy most despite the challenges involved. 

I have ideas, try to execute them and just let my passion take over and get the job done. Whether it succeeds or not? I don’t know. These things are subjective after all. 

I guess given my roots I’m not comfortable with any kind words or praise. I much prefer to listen to criticisms and try to address them. I draw strength from negativity for my sins. I like challenges and I guess it’s that bloody-minded aspect of my character that comes through. I don’t know. I’m no psychologist! 

QUESTION 3: Where did the idea come from to tell the story - and stories - of a single mountain?

Film poster for Terry Abraham's Helvellyn film with a picture of Red Tarn between Striding Edge and Swirral Edge.

It was born out of frustration. The UK is one of the most diverse countries on earth. Be it the geology, accents, scenery, heritage and more besides - it’s beautiful. But I felt that domestic TV nature programmes didn't offer enough depth, or generally overlooked the things I'm passionate about, and I guess that’s how I came to produce the documentaries I have.

My grandparents had much to do with it too.

Having survived World War 2 they instilled a sense of appreciation for history and culture. My grandfather was a German POW when he came to England. He was the only father figure in my life and had a profound impact on me with his love for the countryside and nature. I’d often camp out for the night with him even into my teens.

My grandmother survived the concentration camps and was from the old Soviet Union. She chose to emigrate at the end of World War 2 to the UK and she had a massive love for history and people.

As a result, I like to think my films are as much about history and people as they are about the mountains.

My outlook, my place in the world, this is what I have sought to capture and share on camera. With Helvellyn, I think I have ended the trilogy on a high, and I hope everyone feels the same. It felt like a big responsibility, and I was determined to measure up to it.

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