Bike Night at Kendal Mountain Festival

November 16, 2013  •  Leave a Comment
OK, this is a little way from my usual photography posts, but film-making does provide some sort of a link, and there are issues here worth raising, so bear with me.
Last night my partner and I went to the Bike Night at Kendal Mountain Festival. I went along with high expectations but came away feeling slightly underwhelmed overall and with one very real concern.
But to begin with a positive, it was great to see Imaginate with Danny MacAskill on the big screen, and then great to listen to its maker Stu Thompson talking about how it was put together (months of work for a 6-minute film) and how he became a film-maker. 
Probably the other highlights was a short edit on the Trans-Provence enduro event. I guess this was a fairly ad-hoc collection of clips, but well edited. We could certainly have done with more... and as host Ed Oxley said at the end, “doesn’t that make you want to go and ride your bike?” Which when you think about it is a pretty good testimonial for any bike film.
We also had Not Bad from Anthill Films. Anthill are successors to the Collective, who made ROAM, one of my all-time favourite bike films. So it was no surprise to see some stunning riding and beautiful images. And it was fascinating to me because the film (shot around Queenstown in New Zealand) included some trails I’ve ridden, albeit a lot more slowly. But... as Bernie said afterwards... “where’s the narrative”? In the end it was just a case of ‘here’s a trail, here are some dirt jumps, here’s a trail, here are some more dirt jumps’. And in between, “here are some guys messing around a bit”.
And personally, as impressive and even beautiful as it may be, I can quite easily get enough of people riding dirt jumps. I can never quite escape the feeling that films like this end up heavy on the dirt-jumping because it’s logistically a lot easier to film there than on remote back-country trails. So maybe I’m greedy, but I want to see more of people riding beautiful trails in beautiful places and maybe a bit less of the dirt jumps, which always seem like they could be anywhere.
The evening ended with a session devoted to Steve Peat. Peaty, of course, is a legend among mountain bikers, not just for World Championship and multiple World Cup wins, but for putting a lot back into the sport. But I felt a bit let down, because showing an episode of This is Peaty isn't really good enough. For those who don’t know it, it’s rather like a blog, but in video form, following Peat’s racing and other activities through the year.
In social media terms, it works very well, though I’d have to say the Athertons do it better. But this sort of chummy little internet video doesn't necessarily translate well to the big screen. And in the segment shown last night, we actually don't get to see much of Peaty riding. I'm sorry, but all that stuff about Thai boxing and visits to the snake pit has nothing to do with bikes, and I’m not very interested in it. 
Also, sound quality was poor all night, and even on the professionally-shot movies it wasn't always easy to follow dialogue. The This is Peaty segment did not look like it was short professionally, and it certainly didn’t sound like it. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the entire Thailand section, at least, was shot on a DSLR with the built-in mike – it would certainly explain the (lack of) quality in sound. They'd put sub-titles to much of it but a lot of people couldn't see these. This, and the chat between Ed Oxley and Steve Peat which followed, were presumably intended to be the climax of the evening. The chat was fine – entertaining if a bit inconsequential – but the film was a let-down. Maybe it should have been shown at the very start. Or, better still, maybe we should have waited for the film which Clay Porter has been making about Steve Peat. I have little doubt that will be on another level altogether.
The evening leaves me thinking about a couple of issues. One is the place in a film festival of videos that loads of people have already seen on the Internet. This applies to Imaginate, of course, but riding and film-making of that quality really deserves to be seen on the big screen, and of course we then had the extra dimension with Stu Thompson talking about his work. If I’m travelling to Kendal (and a lot of people will have travelled a lot further than we did) and paying £12 for the evening I want to see films that are special. I want to see stuff that makes me want to buy the DVD (as I did after seeing ROAM for the first time). 
But the biggest issue of all is that we sat and watched around two hours of video from a bunch of different film-makers and, apart from a couple of quick, blink-and-you’ve-missed-them, glimpses in Trans-Provence, you could have gone away thinking that women just don't ride mountain bikes. And that really, really, isn’t good enough.
Am I being too harsh? I don’t think so. Kendal is the UK’s biggest mountain festival (these days it’s much more than just a film festival), and one of the biggest in the world. It should be judged by the highest standards. And its avowed mission is “inspire more people to explore, enjoy and represent mountains, wilderness and their cultures.” I don’t want to come away feeling that mountain biking is a cosy little lads’ club where fart jokes are the height of humour, women are on the sidelines if they exist at all, and inspiration is strictly rationed.


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