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‘Climbing Blind’ Snares Kendal Mountain Festival Grand Prize

KENDAL    “Climbing Blind,” from Alastair Lee, took the Grand Prize at the 2019 Kendal Mountain Festival on Saturday. Detailing the ascent of a vertical rock pillar, the film revealed how a blind mountaineer led the climb, assisted only by a sight-partner a rope length below. The film had particular significance for a British audience, which had watched the climb in 1967 as an early outside broadcast undertaken by expert mountaineers. “Climbing Blind” showed not only how blindness was no impediment to the driven and the fearless, but also how it was the leading climber who required the greatest strength and faced the highest risks.

The Best Short Film prize went to “Fear of the Unknown,” from Daniel Brereton, and  continued the theme of overcoming disability, using the outdoors as a part of the recovery process during the treatment of depression in an individual going through a program of therapy.

“Scenes From a Dry City,” directed by Francois Verster and Simon Wood, won the Environmental Prize. The dry city in question was Cape Town, and the film filtered through the different impacts the drought has upon different communities and left a clear impression of how society can easily fracture when a natural resource is scarce.

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Further down the list was the Best Mountain Film – awarded to “The Last Mountain,” from Dariusz Załuski. A full length record of a 2018 assault on the Himalayan  mountain K2, Zaluski’s account is in the tradition of the extreme mountaineering stories that the festival has at its heart and what the festival goers are hungry to see. K2 is looked upon as the hardest of the eight thousand meter peaks to summit, and this exposition of a Polish winter assault makes it all too clear as to why this is the case. The rescue of a stranded climber on the nearby peak Nanga Parbat, introduces an additional level of tension to a film which had the audience roped down to their seats.

The competition showcased 103 films which were judged against eleven different categories. With a theme of “openness,” the organizers attempted to highlight the trait of of an adventurous mindset and tackle subjects as diverse as conservation, politics, disability and indeed anything which could be interpreted as a challenge to engaging with the world of the outdoors.

The openness theme extended to the prize-giving, open to all in the tented “Basecamp” section of the festival – actually a repurposed section of carpark. It was here that the chairman of the jury, Keme Nzerem, asked the audience of climbers, filmmakers and armchair adventurers “what would it feel like to have a mobility impairment and play on, and delight in the texture of a forest floor for the very first time? How can you find freedom and adventure if you live in occupied Palestine? But what does control and responsibility mean if you lose your sense of sight?’

Additional prize categories were aligned with these sentiments:

A Changemaker Award Prize went to  Julie Cleves and Robbie Synge for “Forest Floor,” a four minute film investigating the interaction of disability with movement, nature and accessibility. Another prize winner not directly linked to mountains but probing the ability of individuals to find their own way through was Michael Rowley’s “Hurdle,” set in Israeli-occupied Palestine where two young athletes immerse themselves in parkour and photography as a means of overcoming their personal and political obstacles.

On a lighter note, the jury was charmed by “Dream Job,” by Colleen Gentemann, a ski film which took the best action sport prize, but seen through the eyes of a bumbling beginner whose action sport is limited only by how far she is willing to fall.

The organizers claimed 18,000 festival visitors to the town of Kendal in the U.K.’s Lake District for the four-day festival, which also attracts writers, artists and speakers from the world of travel, exploration and mountain sports.

CREDIT: Band of Birds


“Climbing Blind,” (Alastair Lee)

“Hurdle,” (Michael Rowley)

“Fear of the Unknown,” (Daniel Brereton)

“Scenes From A Dry City,” (Francois Verster, Simon Wood)

“The Last Mountain,” (Dariusz Załuski)

“Home,” (Jen Randall)

“Forest Floor,” (Julie Cleves, Robbie Synge)

“Little Miss Sumo,” (Matt Kay)

“The Big Bang,” (David Petts)

“One Breath Around the World,” (Guillaume Néry)

“Dream Job,” (Katie Burrell, Colleen Gentemann)

“Counter Mapping,” (Emmanuel Vaughan-Lee, Adam Loften)

“Nowt But A Fleeting Thing,” (Dom Bush

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