Up until a few years ago, figuring out the annual cycle of Scotland’s mountain film festivals used to be fairly straightforward: Edinburgh happened in October, Dundee happened in November and that was yer lot.
These days, however, as the so-called “outdoors industry” grows ever more profitable (did you know that if you stitched together all the GORE-TEX jackets sold in the United Kingdom in the last 12 months, sleeve to sleeve, they would stretch three quarters of the way to the planet Saturn?) so the number of mountain film festivals seems to be increasing every year. In the next few weeks alone, we have the Peebles Outdoor Film Festival (22-24 January), the Edinburgh Mountain Film Festival (6-7 February) and the Fort William Mountain Festival (17-21 February), not to mention the Banff Mountain Film Festival World Tour – a sort of “edited highlights” reel produced by the makers of the world’s original outdoors movie shindig which stops off at the Festival Theatre in Edinburgh on 30 January, followed by Glasgow (16 February), Inverness (18-19 February) and Pitlochry (20 February).
To outsiders, the ongoing success of these events must be a cause for some degree of bafflement – after all, you can now watch high-quality extreme sports films online in the comfort of your own home for free, so why pay to schlep out in the rain to see a lot of the same stuff at your local cinema, (even if you are clad head-to-toe in the latest GORE-TEX clobber)? Part of the answer lies in the fact that these films often look far better on the big screen than they do on your PC, but that’s by no means the whole story. A much bigger factor is the way they tend to attract some of the most exciting people from the adventure sports world in person to talk about their achievements; and this year, in particular, Scottish MFF-lovers are in for a treat.
In Peebles the big name invitees are Mark Beaumont, who will be talking about his various long-distance adventures, and fabled wildlife photographer Laurie Campbell, originally from Berwick, whose latest book is about the return of otters to the River Tweed. Edinburgh, meanwhile, can look forward to appearances from the always-amusing Andy Kirkpatrick, who describes himself as the UK’s only “stand-up climber” and the king of Scottish climbing Dave Macleod. Although it has plenty of film screenings in its programme, Fort William considers itself to be more than a film festival, hence the tell-tale lack of the word “film” in the title. Like Edinburgh, its programme also features Dave Macleod, but rather than giving talks and presenting films, at Fort Bill he’ll be offering climbing masterclasses on the same wall he uses when training for his most challenging projects. In a similar vein, there’s a chance, at Peebles, to go on an early morning otter-spotting adventure with Laurie Campbell, in advance of his main stage talk.
As well as giving us the opportunity to meet well-kent heroes, mountain film festivals are also a good way of finding out about under-the-radar adventurers doing original and innovative things. At Peebles, for example, in a talk called Running the Spine, Glasgow based ultra-runner Elspeth Luke will revisit her recent 34-day, 680-mile run along the watershed of Scotland, from the Borders to Duncansby Head (for more on this novel way of traversing the country, check out books on the subject by Dave Hewitt and Peter Wright, although both of those chaps seemed to think walking the watershed was quite enough of a challenge, thanks very much).
And finally, at the risk of sounding like an old man: what is going on with people putting lights all over their extreme sports gear and messing about in the dark? At Edinburgh there’s a short film called Fuse about whitewater kayakers covering themselves in LEDs, and a film called Darklight, billed as a “mind-bending midnight mountain bike ride though the moonscapes of southern Utah and the Ewok forests of the Pacific Northwest.” Following hot on the heels of the stunning LED snowboard footage shot last winter by Jacob Sutton, and the heart-stopping lightsuit segment from Sweetgrass Productions’ ski film Afterglow, are we now getting to a point where LED-lit extreme sports are officially a “thing”? If so, the mountain film festivals of 2017 could be mind-bending indeed.