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Westport welcomes adventure film festival



Film festival moves from Galway to ‘perfect home’ of Westport 

Ciara Moynihan

The Irish Adventure Film Festival will take place for the first time in its new home, Westport, this weekend, Saturday and Sunday, February 24 and 25. First established in Galway by Dubliner Graham Clarke in 2012, it started life as a passion project, and has grown each year, attracting more and more films and audiences.
Now, the festival – its credentials and popularity firmly established – has upped stakes and moved to Westport. When asked what prompted the move, Clarke tells The Mayo News that Westport is the event’s ‘Perfect home’. “Westport has become the country’s adventure capital,” he says. “It’s a perfect fit.”
Formerly the What If, Why Not? Adventure Film and Music Festival, the event has one guiding principle: “To inspire people to get outside and undertake their own adventures. No matter how small.”
To that end, the programme includes two talks by adventure buffs, National Geographic Adventurer of the Year 2012 Alastair Humphreys and Galway explorer Shane Young, as well as a packed lineup of 17 films, all showing in the W Cinema over the two days.

The speakers
Humphreys has cycled around the world, walked across India, canoed the Yukon River, trekked across Antarctica, rowed the Atlantic and run across the Sahara desert. He has authored nine books, and is currently editing his tenth - which you can follow on his Facebook feed. He is also a big promoter of the idea of microadventures: adventures that are close to home, cheap, simple, short, and yet very effective. A great storyteller, the Yorkshire man will be sharing his yarns on Saturday at 5.30pm.
Thirty-two-year-old Shane Young, from Killary Harbour, spent 22 days kayaking and hiking through the Chiribiquete National Park in southern Colombia. A former FARC stronghold and home to a booming cocaine business, the park covers an area the size of Belgium. Young’s goal? To find and document the ‘jaguar sanctuary’, a collection of 10,000-year-old prehistoric rock paintings on the side of an 800m tabletop mountain. Known as the Amazonian Sistine Chapel, the artworks are so difficult to get to that previous expeditions have relied on helicopters.
Young and his team battled fear, hunger, jungle, jaguars, piranhas and fist-sized spiders to get to the treasured art. A true Indiana Jones tale, which he will regale audiences with this Sunday at 2.30pm.

The films
The silver-screen offerings kick off on Saturday at 1pm with ‘Dirtbag: A Legend of Fred Becky’ a feature film on rockclimbing and mountain culture. At 3.30pm, it’s the turn of award-winning mountaineering film ‘Magnetic Mountains’. An independent documentary, it follows the story of ‘everyman’ Steve Wakeford, who, after falling 70 metres from an Alpine north face, faced a long and arduous physical rehabilitation while planning to climb the same route from which he fell.
After Humphreys’ talk at 5.30pm, the evening’s entertainment starts at 7.30pm with another award winner, the sailing film ‘Sea Gypsies: The Far Side of the World’. At the centre of the film is ‘Infinity’, a 120 ft hand-built gypsy boat, crewed by a band of heavy drinking, chain-smoking miscreants. The audience gets to watch on as ‘Infinity’ undertakes an 8,000-mile pacific crossing, from New Zealand to Patagonia, with a stop in Antarctica. A mad voyage of reckless adventure just for the thrill of it.
A series of shorts will also be shown, including ‘Follow Through’ (skiing mountaineering), ‘Stumped’ (climbing), ‘The Frozen Road’ (cycle touring), ‘Dream Ride’ (mountain biking, culture) and ‘One Breath’ (free diving).
Sunday starts on the waves with sailing film, ‘The Ocean Rider’ at 12.30pm. Despite being in his landlocked homeland, the Swiss sailor Yvan Bourgnon dreams big. He embarks on a solo trip around the world in his cockpit-less catamaran. No protection against the elements, no crew, and 55,000 kilometres of open water ahead. On his journey, Bourgnon faces storms, pirates, and polluted seas.
Another short, ‘Skye’s The Limit’ will also be shown. This film focuses on Cal Major’s solo circumnavigation of the Isle of Skye, Scotland, on a stand-up paddleboard. Her adventure serves to highlight the effects of plastic pollution on even stunning, remote and wild places such as this, and brings positive and engaging solutions to the issue.
At 5.30pm, after Shane Young’s talk, trail-running film ‘Mira’ will follow the journey of a spirited Nepali village girl as she works towards becoming a world-recognised mountain runner. An inspirational story, locations include Nepal, Hong Kong, Australia, Spain, Italy and France.
The ‘Mira’ screening will be accompanied by a great cast of shorts, including ‘Lunag Ri’ (mountaineering), ‘Chasing Wild’ (pack rafting), ‘Snowmads’ (skiing/snowboarding), ‘The Boulder Project’ (bouldering/lifestyle), ‘Chocies’ (rock climbing/base jumping/mountain culture), ‘Nick Livesey’ (mountain culture).

Selecting which films to show was no easy task, Clarke reveals. The film-selection committee had to wade through and whittle down an enormous number of submissions – around 121 in total. Complicating matters was the high standard of the works.
“It took a long time to make the choices this year because the quality was so extremely high,” says Clarke. “We had to be fairly ruthless about what works and consider the flow and the story arcs of the different films.”
Although a native of Coolock on Dublin’s northside, Clarke’s interest in film was fostered here in Mayo. “Twelve or 13 years ago I studied outdoor education at GMIT Castlebar, and one of the lecturers there started up this film night aimed at kayaking. I helped run it for a out three years. Then I left college and no one kept it going.”
Noting a gap in the market, especially after an adventure-sports film festival in Dublin wound down after five years, he decided to take the plunge himself in 2012.  
“I started the film festival in Galway, simply because there was no other adventure-sport film festivals at the time. But I always felt that Mayo was the spiritual home of the festival – I’d always hoped that long term, the festival would wind up in Westport, because the town is such an adventure hub – it’s the microadventure capital of Ireland.”
With that in mind, Clarke, who is married to a Claremorris woman, moved here in 2016. There was no festival last year, as he decided to move the event from October to February.
The extra few months for all that submission viewing would have come in handy too. The selection committee is comprised of eight members, two women and six men – one living in Alaska, two in the UK, one in Chamonix in the Alpes, and the rest in Ireland. In total, they watched 110 hours of film from 29 countries. That’s a lot of screen time.
But from the look of the line-up, which was finalised only last week, it seems that the time they spent mulling, chewing and chin stroking has paid off. The films, be they feature-length movies or shorts, all look fascinating, and the tall tales of Humphreys and Young will no doubt have audiences enthralled, and maybe even planning a few adventures – micro or macro – themselves.

For more details on The Irish Adventure Film Festival and for tickets or weekend passes, visit www.irishadventurefilmfestival.com.

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