At the end of last year, Tom Allen and I spend the best part of two months working with the footage from our river journey in Iran. We both found the process to be hugely rewarding - reviewing the visual reminders of a trip that brought so much joy - yet also desperately frustrating. As anyone who has edited a creative work will attest too, this is not unusual.
Trying to craft a story is rarely easy, and in my experience success often comes only after much swearing, whiskey-drinking and last-gasp epiphanies. The difference this time, however, was that much of our frustration had very tangible roots. Our footage had holes; gaps where tough conditions, multiple encounters with the police and last minute changes-of-plan had left our original story ideas in tatters. We had ambitiously hoped to make a film commenting on what Iran is really like in 2014; we'd wanted to speak with lots of Iranians on camera and to really get under the skin of the country. The reality was that we'd been limited to fewer interactions of the type we'd hoped for, and struggled to escape the attentions of small-town bureaucrats. Our adventures on foot, bike and in inflatable boats had ended up playing a much bigger role in our shooting that the social commentary and, in short, we were struggling to see where to go with our narrative.
Our journey along the Karun River was definitely one of my favourite-ever trips. It had everything I'd wanted from a short(ish) trip - thrills and spills; wilderness and people; danger and hospitality. It was fantastic. The problem was that the dynamic, rollercoaster-nature of this five week adventure meant it was extremely hard at the time to know what to film (and when we'd safely be able film.) We came home with lots of footage, but not quite the material we'd expected to get.
Filmmaking, I've found, relies strongly on finding the right balance between single-mindedness and flexibility (much like a good journey does too, I suppose.) After our initial annoyances at how much our original vision for the film had been shattered, Tom and I eventually came to see the strengths in the material we had. We stripped the concept right back down to its bare bones, and built it up again from scratch. It wasn't always fun, but it was certainly the right thing to do.
As it stands now, we're still only partially through the project. Last November, however, a major milestone was reached when we completed the short-form version of Karun. At 15 minutes in length, it tells the personal story of our journey through Iran yet still aims to show just what an incredible country it is. Over the next few months we hope to expand that into a feature, drawing out our secondary themes and finding creative ways to work with footage that has been gnawed at by the factors mentioned above. It's been the most challenging film I've worked on to date, but slowly it's coming together.
Right now, I'm more excited than daunted. I'm sure I'll see-saw between those two states regularly during the edit, but last night I received a real boost to my confidence for this project when Karun won the People's Choice Award at the Edinburgh Mountain Film Festival. Aside from the obvious niceties of winning anything (I could now constantly refer to our 'Award-Winning Film' - though I'll desperately try not to!) what I'm most pleased about is that the early audiences are responding really well. Our hard work seems to have paid off - Tom and I must be getting at the core elements of emotion and drama that make humans tick. That - a film that leaves an impression and makes people think and feel - is what we've been working towards.
I'm incredibly chuffed to get an award (if I'm totally honest, when I heard last night that we'd won, it was much like this.) Mostly, though, I'm just glad to know we're on the right track with this film, and I'm really looking forward to creating the feature. Iran is a place that had a profound effect on me, and I feel a responsibility to do justice to the experiences we had and stories that we found there.
So watch this space!
One final thing (and I think you'll like this): Tom and I would like to share the Award-winning (sorry, I'll stop now) short version of Karun with all you lovely folk that read our blogs regularly.
If you're already on my mailing list, then you don't have to do anything. If you're not, then consider popping your email address in the box below. I'll send out one email monthly with updates from my world of adventures, and at some point in the next few weeks you'll get a private and secure online link to watch the 15 minute version of Karun.
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!
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.