Kendal calling

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It’s not quite 9am and I’m sitting in one of the side theatres at the Brewery Arts Centre, home to the renowned Kendal Mountain Festival. Looking around, there are only a few seats left, and still they file in. There must be 100 people or more: young and old, families, and grizzled-looking mountain men. All are here to enjoy the opening film session at what is the UK’s (maybe Europe’s?) largest festival of its kind.

Kendal is always a buzzy event. Climbers, mountaineers, ultra-runners, mountain bikers and athletes from every imaginable adventure discipline descend on this busy Cumbrian town each year to share tales of daring-do. As the gathering place for those who love the outdoors, adventure film-makers often time the release of new film projects to coincide with the festival, with the result that the programme is littered with world, European and UK premieres.

I first came to Kendal a few years ago in part to see what all the fuss was about, but also to scout films for our own (rather more modest) Peebles Outdoor Film Festival here in the Scottish Borders. An enjoyable assignment, it has to be said.

Kendal has grown enormously since its early beginnings, and now sees more than 130 film sessions across a variety of venues around the town; a host of famous names – Chris Bonington was one of this year’s big draws – hands-on sessions; outdoor events; film workshops; plus a vibrant Basecamp Village where people come to check out brands and bands, drink beer and generally soak up the atmosphere.

For me though, it’s all about the films. Like others who help programme such events, I’m looking for films that generate genuine emotion: joy, fear, love, anger, or just that feeling of BLOODY HELL as a climber decides to free solo an insanely difficult route.

But in truth, I’m not so interested in the tales of winning and conquering. I’m drawn much more to films that get under the skin of a person, a place, or a people. Sometimes a film is just so visually striking, it can’t be ignored, but usually it’s good storytelling that is king. And on that front, Kendal more than delivered once again.

For our event here in Peebles, we select films that screen at festivals around the world, Kendal included. Ones to look out for? For features, look no further than Psycho Vertical, based on climber Andy Kirkpatrick’s autobiography of the same name; caving film The Ario Dream – the latest work from Paul Diffley’s Hot Aches Productions which won this year’s People Choice; plus the poignant Blood Road, which scooped the overall Grand Prize. There were some wonderful shorts too, with The Frozen Road, My Irnik, and Andy McKenna’s This Way Up among my favourites.

Let’s just say that a few might well appear on the programme for the 2018 Peebles Outdoor Film Festival (26-28 January). Full details to be announced very soon …