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Adventure & the big screen [pt. 3]

November 9, 2013.Oliver.0 Likes.2 Comments

Repetition creates habits. And habits seem to be the nondescript hideaway of everyday life. Already the third not so mundane Monday in a row after the night of thrill seeking last week and the opening night of the Adventure Film Festival the week before. Last time I mentioned the inspiration which wasn’t really a call to action but rather one demanding attention – observing and actually preserving curiosity.

Since the beginning of the movie nights I have been looking forward to one film in particular, the one which actually has drawn my attention to the AFF. A newsletter a few weeks ago triggered the interest and nourished a certain curiosity. The short digitalized reminder from the guy I consider a source of inspiration for quite some time now. That guy whose furious wanderlust seems almost inherent or kind of predetermined: the phrase “as a trail” or the words “atlas” and “air” basically forming his name: Alastair…

Into the Empty Quarter

Another expedition following in the footsteps of a life gravitated to the allurement of the unknown: British explorer Wilfred Thesiger whose “Arabian Sands” became a travel writing classics. The book not only gives an account of his years wandering in the “Rub’ al Khali” desert but also describes the vanishing of nomadic culture life there. In the spirit of their schooldays hero the two British adventurers Alastair Humphreys and Leon McCarron decide to take the plunge and cross the largest sand desert in the world, the “Empty Quarter”. The film emanates from the motivation and preparation for their days of shared solitude, recording their own edition of “Arabian Sands” and pulling their conceptual cart the 1,000 miles from Oman to the United Arab Emirates.

“Nothing changes and the horizon doesn’t get any nearer; you just start questioning, what on earth is the point?”

The footage forms a comprehensive patchwork of motion and emotion. From the very beginning and the initial idea shared via email, the trial run on a rainy day back home and the teething troubles when figuring out their re-assembled cart would rather be ball and chain than iron porter. Only the nightly labour of a few local engineers turned the prototype into a reliable companion. Al and Leon not only conquer the desert ahead of them but also the one within. Pondering about the motivation for their contemporary nomadic existence, encountering the exceptional kindness of strangers and discovering their own limits in a seemingly infinite stretch of land, like walking through a rotating hourglass. Maybe the lonely skyscraper view in Abu Dhabi felt like a reward but the real achievement was the path covered – more than a distance between two spots on the map…

“No man can live this life and emerge unchanged. He will carry, however faint, the imprint of the desert, the brand which marks the nomad; and he will have within him the yearning to return, weak or insistent according to his nature. For this cruel land can cast a spell which no temperate clime can match.” ~ Wilfred Thesiger in Arabian Sands


Filmmaker Corey Rich and his team portray three different people in different places in order to reveal their motivation for the extreme and showing a part of the world through their eyes. Kayaker Dane conquers the epic waterfalls of Veracruz in Mexico, free climber Alex masters the beautiful rock of California’s Joshua Tree National Park and mountain biker Rebecca challenges the incredible stone arches of Moab, Utah.

“I think I learned how to kayak long before I could talk and walk, that’s for sure!”

Once again some stunning scenery and superb shots showing how these adventure athletes are completely in their element – no matter if in the water, on the rock or in the saddle. All three follow an invisible string, which is not only drawing them to adventure but also attaching them to their surroundings…

“Without the fear, it wouldn’t be the same.”


As the name already suggests it’s basically the follow-up on the previous film, only from a different perspective. It intends to unveil the potential of the Nikon D4 camera which provided the entire footage of WHY and also gives a glimpse into the routine of a production crew and the challenges and creativity which form their work. Corey and his team constantly have to step up to the plate and stay focused while being on a continuous fast lane. It’s not only the lack of time due to the tight schedule but also some demanding settings and general conditions which make it an enormous challenge behind the scenes. A blend of light bulb moments and astonishment made it an interesting insight somewhere between art and attitude…

“I realized this was an amazing opportunity to do something that was more than just visuals put to music, but actually to tell a story with voice.”

The Kyrgyzstan Project

There is quite an impressive backstory which makes you watch this movie with different eyes:  In 2000 rock climbing photographer John Dickey and his partners went on an expedition to Kyrgyzstan when the dreams in their portaledge suddenly turned into a nightmare. Woken up by gunshots they were forced down to the valley and held hostage for six days by violent militants before they could make a staggering escape through the mountains of the Kara Su valley. Running for their life they finally reached a Kyrgyz military outpost and made it back to the U.S. relatively unscathed.

“The feeling of being away, of being cut off, you just can’t duplicate.”

More than a decade later John returns to the region on a deeply personal quest. Together with two close friends, the elite climbers Matt Segal and Eric Decaria, he starts out to confront his past. But the three also dedicate the ascent to two friends, fellow climbers who lost their lives in the mountains. It becomes clear that they carry an invisible backpack as heavy as rock. In this remote corner of the world they try to overcome an obstacle even bigger and more challenging than these massive granite walls ahead of them: their own memory…

“It’s important to my soul and who I am to be in those places.”

Duct Tape Surfing

One of these stories seemingly scripted by life, but quite a capricious one… A touching tale of determination and sheer will, showing how yearning can even bring fate to its knees!

A single day 18 years ago changed the life of Australian mum Pascale Honore forever: a horrific car accident left her paralysed and wheelchair-bound. Unable to do many of the things she has taken for granted before, she not only had to find ways of doing things but also find back to life.

“The first time I saw the ocean I was mesmerised and just wanted to live by the water. My two sons have grown up surfing, and watching them has made me want to get in the waves with them.”

Pascale’s dream of surfing turned into a plan which eventually became a reality. Big wave surfer and professional diver Tyron Swan, a close friend of her sons, came up with the idea of tandem surfing – with the help of a backpack and some duct tape. Strapped to his back they took to the water and rode the waves, allowing her to finally feel what it is like to become part of the ocean…

“I remember just looking up, the colour, the sound, it was like being part of everything, being part of the water.”

Duct Tape Surfing has turned from a local sensation into a global phenomenon. An inspiring tale which went viral and also initiated the crowd funding project “Legless Summer”, enabling Pascale and Ty to hit the road in search for bigger waves and let their journey continue…

The Beginning

Strangely enough, the final movie of the festival – one which is extremely odd and oddly extreme… Warren Verboom and his Swiss canyoning collective “deap” show their acrobatic skills with a certain liability to madness, the strange love of “jumping off something”. A weird way of exploring canyons and waterfalls by a combination of traditional rappels with daring jumps, flips and dives; plunging headfirst into cold pools and streams or showing a decent “cannonball” – all in pursuit of the ultimate adrenaline rush…

“On one hand it’s like a huge playground for adults – just having a good time goofing around with friends. On the other hand it can be so extreme.”

Last time I already reflected on the meaning of adventure, the difference between event and experience and I think the final screening reinforced this impression. The spectrum may have been bigger this time, covering almost all facets of adventure and the extreme – each of the pieces with a different aftertaste and perception.

Standing in front of the cinema this time felt different from the Mondays before. A bit like reaching the end of a good book, accompanied by a slightly oppressive feeling of not knowing what to read next. Or even the urge to grab a pen and start writing your own short story – and may it be simply a “Microadventure“, right Al?!


header image:
Into the Empty Quarter [copyright] Alastair Humphreys

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Comments (2)

  • Alastair Humphreys . November 14, 2013 . Reply

    Thank you for the very kind review! Glad you enjoyed the film.

    • (Author) Oliver . November 14, 2013 . Reply

      Thanks for popping in and leaving some feedback Al, much appreciated!!

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