The Kendal Mountain Festival 2013 – Life’s great balancing act…

KMF-Awards

The run up to the 2013 Kendal Mountain Festival was filled with the usual barrage of emails, packed with ever-changing pdf’s and spreadsheets.  This I could cope with.  It was the last-minute call on the Thursday from Andy Perkins, regarding the Kendal for Kids session on the following morning that took me by surprise.  Things had changed and I was suddenly asked to perform live before 150 Primary School children, after the last film was done. Thankfully as a presenter I always carry my kit with me and my mind is filled with plenty of ideas to fit any session.  I love enthusing an audience about mountaineering and adventure..!

After a long and tortuous drive north, I entered Kendal as the opening ceremony was underway.  Usually a large screen is erected across the Main Street to project films onto, but the wind was too high, so a white van was hijacked for the job, and it worked very well.  I caught up with old telemarking and adventure friend Robin Taggart, and after some serious catching up, we spent the evening reviewing films and drinking a pint or three…

The first full day of the festival started with the usual Kendal chaos.  The cafe which keeps the presenters going for breakfast was closed, and we almost had to break in to begin the day..!  Thankfully we were soon underway, before the morning presenters meeting, and then the action really began…

Kendal for kids brought a packed house of schoolchildren into the cinema. The films were excellent, particularly Imaginate where Danny MacAskill re-enacted a child’s play with models into real life.  Then it was my turn. For 40 minutes I spoke about mountaineering, frostbite and my many epics on the hill. There were plenty of excited faces and questions during and after my presentation, and for the rest of the day children were dragging their parents across Kendal town centre to see ‘the man with no fingers’.

I’ve lost count of how many films I’ve watched at Kendal, but one thing stands out – story quality will always overcome production money.  Let me explain this…

The simplest and subtlest film made on a small budget can tear at heart-strings and mean more to audiences than the high budgeted, special effects documentaries. One example was ‘In the Frame – Little Chamonix‘.  Climber Joe Beaumont opened the film and explained what life has been like since a serious fall, where he sustained horrific injuries. The audience asked question after question and we almost had to shoehorn them out of the room at the end..!

What many people don’t see at Kendal is the huge amount of organisation which goes on behind the scenes.  As a core presenter, we open films, but also work on duty.  Basically this means that we keep an eye on things, check the venues, make sure everyone is there etc.  It can be exhausting, but great fun, where you meet wonderful people, all enthused about the festival.

It is said that change is the only constant in life.  If you work at any kind of festival, you will understand this intimately.  The best laid plans will often go awry, venues change, people do and don’t appear, and as with the big days at Kendal – it packs out.  It’s wonderful to see so many people supporting the festival, but at these times I find the fringes and let the crowds pile in.  I have plenty to keep me occupied and happily watch the hoards go by.

Saturday started as busily as ever, with people queuing at venues before even the staff had turned up. It was going to be an epic day…

I was lucky enough to present films with Andy Kirkpatrick, Jake Norton (we never did get that beer Jake), and Pedro Cifuentes and saw some magnificent productions.  One vital piece of equipment at Kendal is a bike – preferably a folding one.  My Brompton has served me well, as many of the venues are quite literally miles apart..!

I also caught up with Paul Walker, who is the major organiser of the Iceman Polar Race, and thinks look fantastic for 2014’s Greenland epic..!

And now the serious bit…

The sunday evening awards ceremony is legendary in the outdoor film world.  It is in this arena that formal recognition is laid before the best of the adventure film world.  Andy Perkins list gives the winners, but there were a few things that truly touched me that evening…

I find it almost impossible to see every film at the festival, as I just can’t find the time, but Defaid a Dringo touched a nerve.  This is the story of climber Ioan Doyle who struggles between bold climbing in his native Wales, and making a living as a sheep farmer.  His acceptance speech was quiet, apologetic (for not climbing more) and an explanation that in this world, making a living climbing and mountaineering is extremely difficult.  He had a farm to run and bills to pay.  Ioan, I know exactly where you’re coming from.  Many people assume that I’m either very rich or very sponsored because of my adventures.  They couldn’t be more wrong.  I’ve worked in Engineering for almost 30 years and have paid almost every penny of every expedition from my own pocket.  It’s a hard battle to fight, but without the work, the adventures couldn’t happen.  It really is ‘Life’s great balancing act…’

The grand prize was awarded to the wonderful ‘Crash Reel“.  This is the story of Snowboarder Kevin Pearce, his horrific accident and long recovery after a serious brain injury.  I’m no film reviewer, but let me say this.  The story was touching, the interviews inspiring and the journey that Kevin takes had people literally in tears as they watched it.  This is what makes a film..!  Lines such as “if he wakes up, he’ll never be the same Kevin” and “if you hit your head again you might die” grasp at your soul.  I was honoured to accept the Grand Prize and read the acceptance speech from director Lucy Walker.

So there you have it.  Another festival over, feet aching, eyelids heavy, skin grafts sore, liver damaged.  Same time next year..???

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