Adventure travel on film – the dangers and delights

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Paddle to Seattle is a beautifully crafted film of two friends' 1,300 mile sea kayak trip down Canada's Pacific coast, being shown at the Adventure Travel Film Festival, 17-20 August.

You might think that the revolution in technology that has brought film-making within the reach of everyone should mean travel film-making is in its heyday. But there is one tremendous stumbling block: an experience filmed may not be one fully experienced. Worse still, a real full throttle adventure would not be that, arguably, if the participant was able to handle a camera. Anyone who has tried to film while travelling knows the problem. At best it is that great moment when you simply cannot disappear behind a lens. At worst it is when an entire sequence of events has to be reproduced – the actuality having been completely missed.

That dilemna has been there in adventure filming ever since the genre kicked off. Fortunately there are those adventurers who will just not give up. Determined to bring home the thrills and spills, they set out to prove that film and adventure can co-exist, even thrive in each other's company. And they have been doing so ever since film started. Take Grass (1925), one of the films to be shown at the Adventure Travel Film Festival (17-20 August) in Sherborne, Dorset. The brain-child of Merian Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack who went on to co-direct the original King Kong movie in 1933, Grass is the story of two travellers who accompany the Bakhtiari tribe on an epic nomadic journey across Iran.

Despite being occasionally stagey and contrived, Grass is a stirring evocation of a way-of-life that, unbeknown to its participants and the film crew, was soon about to embark on a long and melancholy decline. Watching it a few years ago, after a trip to Iran where I'd come across a few nomadic shepherds mourning their lost culture, I appreciated how those limitations of film can fall away and be forgiven in the greater picture of historical importance.

Grass was part of a fashion for grand documentaries in the early 1920s that showed native peoples struggling for survival. Like Nanook of the North, its immensely popular forerunner, it triggered a deep desire for travel and adventure in a whole new generation. By the 1930s, however, you had a quite different, more modern, type of film emerging. Another festival entry is Twice Upon a Caravan (1933) a record of one man's epic motorbike ride around the world. I haven't seen this film, but certainly hope to. How did Robert Fulton pull off what would be an astonishing feat even today? The problems he faced are those of the self-shooter today: whether to be in the experience, or recording.

Those that travel with companions get some help on the film-making front. Ethel and Mel Ross a Canadian couple were early converts to filming their extreme "holidays", so much so that their films have become cult classics. Their Pan-American Highway (1960) is the offering here.

Not that this is a historical festival, most entries are fairly recent, with lots to look forward to. As someone who was bowled over by the Siberian episode of Ewan Mcgregor and Charley Boorman's Long Way Round, I'm very much looking forward to Maciek Swinarski's Motosyberia 2.0 Regeneration. Swinarski has become something of a cult film-maker for astounding motorcycle journeys and followed Mcregor and Boorman down the infamous Road of Bones in Russia's Wild East. This new offering sees him set out on something even more extreme in that same region.

Outside the screenings, try and catch talks from Andy Torbert, Tristram Gooley and Alastair Humphreys plus all sorts of bushcraft and campfire stuff. It promises to be an excellent weekend.

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