It's now nearly three years since I set off into the Empty Quarter desert; it's just under two since the film premiered at the Royal Geographical Society. It's been one of the most rewarding pieces of creative work that I've been part of, and I'm still amazed the the great response we get to the movie. Ultimately, it was an incredibly fun journey which we were fortunate to have had.
One of the main aims of the film was to show a different side to the Middle East - a side that doesn't get much airtime. Hopefully we've done that - we've taken the feature film round festivals, sold it on DVD and as downloads, and now even got it out to broadcast too.
There's also a short version of the film - 20 minutes long, which was created for festivals and events that were limited on time. It too has been well received, and we figured the time has come to put that out to all of you to watch, anytime, anyplace, for free.
So here it is - if you haven't seen it, I'm proud to present to you Into The Empty Quarter!
If you'd like to see the feature version (2 1/2 times as long!), then you can do so here. If you enjoy the film, then do check out our little follow up movie below...
When I first started making films about my adventures I used to idly think, "I wonder if someday I'll make a film that gets accepted into Banff." I've always seen the Banff Mountain Film Festival as the high point of adventure storytelling; the benchmark by which all expedition filmmaking should be marked against.
Unsurprisingly then, it was an unreal experience to have Into The Empty Quarter screened there last year - I still can't quite believe that my silly desert trek with Alastair made the cut, but I'm extremely proud that it did!
The festival is now underway with its World Tour, taking a select pick of films to a ridiculously comprehensive range of locations around the globe. Having been to the Banff Centre last November and seen some of this year's programme, I can happily vouch for the fact that it's a suitably impressive, inspiring and (if I'm really honest) balls-out awesome line-up of films.
Wherever you are in the world, check it out. You won't regret it. If you're in the UK and Ireland, then you're in luck. Brighten up those dark winter nights with a visit to one of the screenings around the country. You can seen the full list here. While I recommend going to either programme, it would be remiss of me not to point out that my film is showing in the RED programme. Just in case that's a dealbreaker for you...
You can book tickets for all the UK venues here. Enjoy!
Three thrilling tales of adventure in one exclusive gift-pack!
Available this week only, here's your chance to get your hands on three very different adventure travel films from three of the UK's best independent adventure filmmakers — and at a ridiculously discounted price you won't find anywhere else.
We'd like to suggest, of course, that this gift-pack would make a 'unique and memorable Christmas present' for friends and family. But we also know that you'll likely be 'borrowing' them back, come January... (We've all done it!)
Janapar: Love on a Bike
First in line is Tom Allen's Janapar: Love on a Bike, the award-winning story of a 3½ year bicycle journey across three continents with a rather unexpected love story running through it. Not just for vicarious adventurers, Tom's touching tale is absolutely one for all the family (with the occasional bit of bad language, mind).
Janapar has now played at more than 30 film festivals around the world, from Austria to Australia, as well as at screenings all over the UK.
Into The Empty Quarter
Second up is Into The Empty Quarter, Alastair Humphreys' and Leon McCarron's gruelling yet highly entertaining 1,000-mile slog across the Empty Quarter desert of Oman and the UAE. Following in the footsteps of Wilfred Thesiger, the pair take a real do-it-yourself approach to desert travel, building a four-wheeled cart to carry their supplies. As well as being tested to their physical limits, they find that Arabia has changed beyond recognition since Thesiger's original journey in this stunningly-shot and skilfully edited film.
Just back from the prestigious Banff Mountain Film Festival, the pair continue to tour the world with Into The Empty Quarter today.
Last but not least is Mondo Sahara, the latest opus from the undisputed overlord of DIY adventure travel film in the UK, Austin Vince, whose annual Adventure Travel Film Festival is one of the most talked-about events in the UK adventure calendar. Featuring a stunning original live soundtrack, this slapstick take on a road-trip movie follows Austin and a cast of fellow fun-loving adventure motorcycle travellers as they ride out of Europe into Africa's Sahara Desert, drifting far from civilization in search of unridden trails.
Not only that, but Austin's dedication to sharing the secrets of DIY motorcycle adventuring — both through the film and in the full colour 32-page booklet included with the DVD — will be sure to have you reaching for the nearest atlas by the time the credits roll.
This 3-pack DVD bundle is available now at the exclusive price of £19 + P&P.
That's a massive 54% discount compared to buying the three DVDs individually, and you'll only pay once for postage!
This offer is a direct collaboration between the filmmakers themselves. There's no middleman creaming off a profit. By taking action on this offer, you won't just be getting an unbeatable deal, you'll be directly supporting Tom, Alastair, Leon and Austin to continue creating inspiring adventure films.
Important: This is such a ridiculously good deal that we can barely afford to run it! As such, we'll be taking orders for one week only. You can place your order any time from Monday 17th November until midnight on Sunday 23rd November — but after that, this page will disappear forever.
Don't miss out!
Order now to avoid disappointment. Sales end at midnight on Sunday November 23rd (or when we run out of DVDs, whichever happens soonest).
This offer is available to UK customers this week only. It won't be coming back!
There are a lot of reasons to have an adventure. First and foremost, it must be personally satisfying. It must be something that makes you feel fulfilled - something to make you come alive.
I love the self-development, formative side of adventures too - all the journeys I go on change me hugely, and always for the better. The challenges of such an unpredictable, spontaneous existence, with each day a new unknown - it's not always easy, but it is always worth it. I learn much about the world, and even more about myself.
I love the landscapes - the visceral thrill of riding down a new road, smelling the flowers and looking to the horizon. There's something incredibly satisfying about feeling the undulations of the earth passing beneath your wheels or feet, and learning how a country changes through the simple act of traversing it by human power.
There is the social angle too - almost all the adventures I've ever had have been enhanced immensely by the people I've met along the way. If you want to restore your faith in humanity, set out on foot or by bicycle and before too long someone will stop you to chat. Not long after you'll begin to receive the gifts - cold drinks when it's too hot, hot drinks when it's too cold. All over the world I've been the recipient of the most outrageous acts of generosity and kindness. I've met people with incredible stories to tell, and I've made friends that I'll stay in contact with forever. This is one of my favourite justifications for adventure.
In the last few years I've discovered another reason, too. When I first set off to cycle through North America, it was mostly for selfish purposes. I wanted to challenge myself, to see the world and to have the wild experiences along the way. It wasn't long, however, before I began to take just as much joy from a very different part of the trip - that of sharing it. I kept a blog throughout my journey, and it's a combination of those essays and notes from my journals that I used to help write The Road Headed West - my first book. There is a great power in writing about a trip - the power to entertain, educate, inspire. I never thought that I would write a book, but after returning from my trip through North America I couldn't shake the feeling that the stories I had from that journey were worth telling. It's taken me nearly four years to get there, but I've done finally turned them into a book. I'm very proud of it, and mostly I hope that readers can enjoy my travels vicariously in the same way that I have done with so many hundreds of books myself.
If you have been on an adventure - the sort that makes you come alive- you will inevitably have a good story. I'd urge you to tell it. Tell it in a blog post, or write it up and send it to magazines. If it's a really good story with multiple themes and angles, then why not start penning your first book? I wrote my entire book (three times in fact, followed by five drafts of the eventual manuscript) before I got a publisher. I'm delighted with my publisher - they were my first choice and I'm very happy they wanted to take a chance on me - but the fact is that these days you don't necessarily need a publisher to get your book out there. There are a lot of very good self-published books available, especially in the travel-writing genre.
If writing isn't your thing, then try photos - begin with a photo-essay. Give film-making a go. Maybe express yourself through art.
There is a fantastic potential to do great things with storytelling. It can provide a platform for thoughts and ideas that wouldn't otherwise get one. One of my works that I'm most proud of is my film Into The Empty Quarter, because it shows a side to the Middle East that many people don't necessarily know about (Spoiler alert: it's an awesome place.)
You don't have to possess the intimate beauty of John Steinbeck's writing, or the flowing prose of Jack Kerouac. You don't have to have Werner Herzog's eye for a perfect shot (or his weird voice.) Just begin - begin to tell your story in the way that feels most natural. Don't worry if it's not good to begin with (even the best struggle with that.) Re-work it. Re-work it some more. Ask friends for their feedback. Pour passion and energy into it - everything you've got. If you care enough and work enough, you'll be able to produce something you're proud of. Whether you'll get your story out there to the masses via a book deal or TV deal or any other sort of deal...that's another question. But if you tell your story because you really want to tell it, and because it's about something that makes you come alive, then you've already succeeded. Anything else is a bonus.
My first book - The Road Headed West- is out now. It is the story of my journey through North America on bicycle - from New York to Seattle, then down the west coast to the Mexican border. At heart it is a rite-of-passage story about what happens when you take to the open road in search of adventure. It is also a portrait of North America as I experienced it on two wheels - a slow, intimate journey through a fascinating continent. You can read it here.
A year and a half has now passed since Al Humphreys and I walked 1000 miles through the Empty Quarter desert, and it's just over six months since we were finally able to screen the film for the first time at the wonderful Royal Geographical Society. How time flies.
We made that film, on one level, to chart our journey and to improve our skills as filmmakers, but mostly we made it to show the beauty and simplicity of adventure. Al and I are both passionate about encouraging everyone to escape into the wilds as often as possible, and making a film that we could share with a wide audience was a great platform for that message.
We also found, pleasantly, that we really loved travelling in Oman and the U.A.E. The landscapes were stunning, of course, but it was the people we met that made this trip memorable. Oil workers, truck drivers and government officials stopped to chat with us in the sands, some even treating us to ridiculously great gifts of watermelons, Pepsis and even ice-cream (in the desert!) A secondary aim of this project quickly became showing that positive, friendly side of the Middle East, and doing our bit in redressing the majorly negative media coverage the region often receives from the West.
We've been really chuffed with the positive reception to our film. It's played in quite a few festivals already, and sold well on DVD and download. For a bit of fun (and perhaps a bit of self-indulgent ego-building...) Al and I recently began to create a map of all the countries our film had been shown in. Rather annoyingly, it seems that the movie is now much more well-travelled than I am!
The map below shows the places where Into The Empty Quarter has been seen. It occurred to us that it would be really fun to try and get it seen in every country on the planet (next stop, world domination?) Aside from giving us a good story at dinner parties, the real reason for this is to spread those same messages that inspired us to create this film in the first place - that adventure is simple and wonderful and accessible, and that the Middle East is not a place to be feared (rather one to be enjoyed and appreciated by all.)
So here's what we're going to do. If you have a friend in any of the countries where our film has NOT been seen yet (the grey spaces on the map - hover the mouse over them to see the name if your geography isn't great!) then send me their email address and I'll send them a free film as a small gift from Al and I. That way, hopefully, everyone is a winner.
So where are your most exotically based friends? Or perhaps you're currently somewhere very exciting yourself? Or maybe there's someone you know that has been exiled somewhere grim and far-flung...in any case, get in touch! Either comment on this post or send me an email and I'll get a free copy of the film sent out straight away.
As readers of this site will know, a couple of years ago I walked 3000 miles from Mongolia to Hong Kong with my friend Rob Lilwall. The intention was to see China at ground level; to watch how a country, people and landscape change at human speed. Moving so slowly undoubtedly offers a unique (if occasionally miserable) insight into a place. I have since become quite a fan of exploring on foot (see more thoughts on that here.)
The idea for the journey came from Rob - he and his wife Christine had just moved to Hong Kong, and part of his motivation for exploring China in such a way was to forge a deeper connection with their new home. Rob, clearly, was also just someone drawn to the wilds of the world, to adventures and travel and challenges and everything that lies therein. He had lived for three years on a bicycle, pedalling from Siberia to London, and had spent countless days and nights on dusty roads in foreign lands and in tiny tents tucked away in unknown landscapes. He had an enviable wealth of experience 'out there' in the world, but still wanted more.
Rob wasn't looking for passing, transitory incidents to form the basis of future anecdotes at dinner-parties - he wanted to really dig deep and learn what he could about China. The culture, the history, the language, the humour; every piece of knowledge gleaned would be a deepening of the relationship with his newly-adopted country.
Happy 2014, all!
It promises to be an exciting year of adventure for me, and I hope for you too. One of my aims for this year is to share my film Into The Empty Quarter with as many people as possible (don't know what I'm talking about? Watch a trailer here.) A great way to do this is via film festivals, and Alastair and I will be entering as many as we can throughout the year.
I'm delighted to tell you that we already have our first acceptance! It's a good one too: Into The Empty Quarter will be playing at theSheffield Adventure Film Festival - one of the most respected events on this circuit - on the weekend of 4-6 April 2014.
Al and I have made (what seems to us) to be a pretty comprehensive list of our other favourite festivals. But we may have missed some. In the comments section here, or by sending me an email, please can you tell me what your favourite film festivals are - adventure, mountain, documentary or regular - I'm happy to hear them all!
For the record, along with the major players in the adventure film festival world (Banff and Kendal) I also love the sound of MountainFilm in Telluride, 5 Point Film and the inimitable Adventure Travel Film Festival.
AFI DOCS in Washington DC and Sheffield Doc Fest round out my choices for general documentary events.
As a special incentive for Christmas, I'm offering cheap-as-chips deals on my two new DVDs - Into The Empty Quarter and Walking Home From Mongolia (for more info, click on the highlighted names.)
If you fancy sharing a bit of adventure this Christmas, then these shows might be just the ticket. They're equally a pretty good stocking filler for 'the person who has everything' (you know who you are...)
I'm happy to put in some personalised Christmas greetings too, in an effort to spread Christmas cheer and make this a one-stop present-sorting shop!
Here's what's on offer:
For UK customers only, there is a free HD download!
For those of you further afield, you can still buy the DVD here for £9.99 + postage, although time is running out to get delivery in time for Christmas, so please do so very soon!
Postage will be added on at checkout.
The trailer for "Into The Empty Quarter," and a scene from "Walking Home From Mongolia"
Some praise for Into The Empty Quarter:
A beautifully shot film of a bravely executed journey. Brings Thesiger’s journey bang up to date — laughs, tears and all. The most pointless adventure I’ve ever had the pleasure of following.
- Tom Allen, award-winning film-maker
Beautifully honest, funny and riddled with grit.
- Dave Cornthwaite, Adventurer
Congrats on an amazing and challenging expedition, and for sharing it so effectively through the film. I swear I could almost feel the grit and sand!
- Roz Savage, World Record Breaking Ocean Rower
Very much enjoyed 'into the empty quarter’ an engaging and inspiring old school british adventure - nice work!
@samuelsnow via Twitter
Just saw @al_humphreys & leonmccarron's epic, beautiful film 'Into The Empty Quarter'. Brilliant! Perfect xmas gift
@georgemahood via Twitter
#intotheemptyquarter Enjoyed your film guys, something a little different to the norm, nice cart!
@ToftM via Twitter
-For more reviews on Twitter and Facebook, search using the hashtag #intotheemptyquarter
-Read Al Humphrey's interview with The Telegraph about the trip here
1 - For an adventure! I'd never been to the Arabian peninsula before and had a hunch I'd really like it there. The only way to find out was to go and see what happened.
2 - To follow, vaguely, in the footsteps of Wilfred Thesiger, who's books and journeys I've admired for many years. Following a hero is a great starting point for an expedition.
3- Someone (Al Humphreys) had asked me to come along - it would have been rude to say no.
4 - The Empty Quarter is the largest sand desert in the world. Even though the largest, sandiest parts are in Saudi Arabia where we couldn't go, the ridiculousness and challenge of trying to thrive in somewhere so large and desolate is appealing.
5 - I wanted to do a trip that would be new, challenging and rewarding. This fit all those categories.
6 - I wanted to make a film that would entertain, educate and inspire. This (I hope) fit all those categories.
7 - Although I swore that I would never again go on a walking expedition after my 3000 mile trek in China, I have since come to believe that walking is my favourite of all methods of human-powered transport. It's slow, miserable and inefficient - but there's nothing to match it for immersion and experience.
8 - Despite what it may sound like from the above points, I really had no idea what I'd find in the Empty Quarter desert - emptiness, happiness, oil fields, roads, Bedu, camels...I could only guess based on other people's accounts. I went to find out.
9 - A 35C desert is a great, if extreme, escape from the British winter. (We went during November and December.)
10 - Life is too short - it's worth filling the time we have with fun, silly and character-developing experiences whenever we can. I knew that however this trip panned out - good or bad - I would never regret having tried it.
Watch the film of 'Into The Empty Quarter' now by clicking here. If you haven't see it yet, check out the trailer below: