The European Outdoor Film Tour: Extreme Films Of People Doing Crazy Things

It takes half a loon to jump off mountains, trek across the Arctic or slack-line over canyons. But there's a world of loons out there, and a travelling film festival is documenting the very craziest...
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It takes half a loon to jump off mountains, trek across the Arctic or slack-line over canyons. But there's a world of loons out there, and a travelling film festival is documenting the very craziest...

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The European Outdoor Film Tour has been running for 12 years in 9 countries throughout mainland Europe – and only this year made its way to Britain. It opened to an enthusiastic crowd who clapped and cheered through the opening at the Royal Geographic Society in South Kensington.

“If you really want to do something, if you’re really driven to go and do something – no matter how ridiculous or how outrageous: go and do it, because you’ll probably succeed.” Says Olivia Hirschberg hosting the event. The tour previewed nine films all covering outdoors activities, exhibiting unique characters with exceptional goals and the human capacity of a thousand men.

Ellen Brennen is standing on the narrow peak of a cliff – clouds engulf her and pastures of green stretch for miles 6,000ft below her. She dives into the abyss – these mountains pierce the clouds like great shards of fierce earth. This is base-jumping off the Dolomites in northeast Italy.

Two men and Ellen are intermittently gliding through mountains in France, Italy and Switzerland. The shots change between close-ups from helmet-mounted cameras and long shots as they single-mindedly descend to fast electro music that mirrors the exhilaration of flying in a wing-suit teeth-grittingly close to chunks of earth that if caught would result in certain death. Welcome to the world of extreme adrenaline-junkies and adventurers; where will is bigger than fear.

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“The supernatural doesn’t exist,” says white water rafter Skip Armstrong over a bed of haunting music. He’s consumed by waves crashing around him – tossing and turning; yet almost in complete control.

The slow-motion footage makes your skin crawl with adrenaline and admiration. It transcends you from your everyday inertia of knowing you can do more; adventure first and fear last. We are in this together – and the world is waiting, it says.

The films show people pushing boundaries for the personal, the physical – and the perceptions of the impossible.

Joachin Hellmer, Director of the European Outdoor Film Tour came up with the ludicrous idea of finding a band to sing on the peak of Mont Mart to celebrate Mammut’s 150 Summits idea to mark the hiking brand’s 150 years of commerce. He’s driving along clueless of a band to choose for the task.

“One day I was driving a car listening to the radio and this song Je Veux came on, and I was like ‘this is it! I need the person behind this voice’. So it took me a couple of months until I was finally sitting down with Isobel (singer of Je Veux),” says Hellmer.

Hellmer found Isobel drunk and chain-smoking. The day after she quit smoking and drinking and got herself into shape with the rest of her band over six months to embark on the task of walking up the mountain to sing to the clouds on the snowy peak in complete isolation. The footage of the band trudging up the snow-covered mountain with a base guitar is juxtaposed with scenes of glamorous shows they’ve played in the warmth and luxury of showmanship and city-life.

“We’ll be freezing and it will be fun,” says an optimistic Isobel (known artistically as Zaz).

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The outcome is as unusual as you might expect – yet stunning. Her brilliant soulful voice is bellowing in a harsh and beautiful landscape with a rhythm that isn’t displaced. It’s pushing boundaries of what can be achieved through sheer will – casting aside norm and expectation.

Most of the featured characters in this series of short films speak like artists and philosophers: in proverbs with a frenetic energy that provokes an air of mystique. I’m sure due to the producer’s editorial judgement than the people themselves. Not so with Chris Brey and Clark Carter, a couple of comical Australian lads who decide to stumble their way 1,000km across desolate Victoria Island in the Artic – with a homemade amphibious contraption.

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Stumble they do, like boys being punished by parents – huffing and puffing after barely moving three metres from starting point in the first ten minutes. Their preparation is slightly offbeat, which adds to their charm. “We underestimated everything,” says Chris laughing

After 70 days they fail and return to Australia. But three years later desire leads the pair back to the same spot they gave up, and they’ve built a new advanced contraption. Bulletproof cloth is wrapped around the wheels that are much bigger than the previous design. Off they go – humour first. At several points their “vehicle” falls apart, and they’re constantly repairing the bulletproof material that can’t resist ice like it can bullets; tearing it to pieces as they keep pushing on in the hostile conditions.

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“I just wanna cry!” Says Clark. They have great humour and they also have a strong will. They are 40km from the coastline and the snow is disappearing as they near the end of their journey. The seasons are changing and white makes way for green as they reach their destination – “UP YOURS VICTORIA ISLAND.” Says Clark.

Alpinists seem to be a different breed. Their lust for adventure rarely seems in vein and you get the impression they feel it’s their purpose on earth to do what they do. Why else would you attempt the slow and arduous task of scaling the unclimbed central pillar of Mount Meru (6310 meters) in India, known as The Shark’s Fin? Vanity couldn’t cope with such hardship. The “route” up appears to any sane person unspeakable.

But top alpinists Conrad Anker, Jimmy Chin and Renan Ozturk thought otherwise. The mountain feeds the headwaters of the River Ganges; Hindus know it as the ‘centre of the universe’ – and you can see why. The Shark’s Fin has a presence unparalleled by surrounding peaks. Frighteningly high and narrow with conditions ripe for frostbite, falls and avalanches; it’s no wonder it carries its reputation as the ‘ultimate climb’.

Photography of clouds whirling around the severe white peaks in a stunning time-lapse clip almost convinces you that The Shark’s Fin really might be the centre of the universe. “I was partnered up with my climbing hero Conrad Ankar. I grew up reading about his exploits around the world and at first I just felt lucky to be here with him,” says Ozturk

“Pinned to the wall for four days scrunched into a frozen portal-edge. The only thing that kept me going was the hope that we’d bail.”

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The scene Ozturk describes is quite a harrowing position in the best conditions. Imagine a tent hanging from a sheer drop thousands of metres up a hostile mountain low on energy in minus 40 degrees Celsius. The trio failed their first attempt – although fail isn’t a word that should be associated with such self-inflicted torment.

“Over the last decade the shark’s Fin has thwarted over twenty attempts of some of the best alpinists in the world. After seventeen days we joined the ranks of all the other teams that had failed; even Jimmy had stopped laughing,” Says Ozturk.

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Joining the ranks of the ‘failed’ wasn’t enough to thwart another attempt by the trio. But six months away from their planned return Renan had a terrible ski accident crushing two vertebrae and smashing his skull. All doctors wrote off the absurd idea of Ozturk taking part. But will is often recorded as being bigger than medical advice. The hungry may walk again, so to speak.

The film shows Ozturk with a bandaged head rebuilding himself on an exercise bike in his apartment over a six-month period. Relentless in his quest for recovery to make the expedition as a trio personifies determination and guts, and he makes it in time.

It’s this sort of resistance that sees the trio to the top of the Shark’s Fin where they’re howling in victory after their grueling ascent – emotional and worn out by their own brand of insanity.

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Where The Trail Ends follows fearless freeriding mountain bikers from their familiar worn-out landscape in Utah to a remote region in China described by one of the riders as the ‘centrepoint of nowhere’. On a diet of yak and with little medical assistance (when needed) they rapidly meander down extremely dry terrain, back-flipping and clearing alarmingly high drops along the way. So that’s what mountain bikes are for – it’s different to cycling along the canal avoiding puddles.

Twenty-two years old David Lama was spotted for having ‘unusual talent’ when he was five years old by Himalaya-veteran Peter Habeler. He started competition climbing aged eleven where his precocious abilities saw him advance as a marvel of a climber – strong, agile, and apparently oblivious to danger. Watching this young man climb a vertical wall defies human capacity. He’s been nominated for National Geographic Adventurer 2013, which at the young age of twenty-two is a huge feat. He made an entrance at the preview to speak on stage about it, “Being nominated isn’t too important to me personally – it’s definitely a great honour on the one hand, but on the other hand the question is ‘why are you nominated?’ That’s what is really important to me.” Says Lama.

His self-deprecating attitude appears to be a product of youth; not fully comprehending, or more charmingly – caring about what it means. David Lama is in this for the same reasons as all the other adventurers: he loves what he does and brand association and labels is merely a sub-plot.

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Without fear there is no courage; so twenty-seven years old slackliner Andy Lewis probably doesn’t qualify as courageous. This frizzy red-haired character has been honing the art of the slackline for just seven years. He’s not like the others featured in these films; he’s energetic bordering on manic; he’s a maverick – he is a talented Jackass.

Watching him on the line is like viewing a sub-plot to the Olympic Games – casting himself in the air, landing on his chest, gracefully gliding back up, landing on arse, back up, flipping and turning; this is more gymnastics than slacklining. He spends 70% of his time devoted to his sport and it shows.

Walking a slackline a metre off the ground would be testing for most of us, but Andy takes it further through what is known as ‘highlining’. This terrifying part of the sport isn’t exclusive to Andy, but it’s his attitude that appears to distinguish his from the rest – not just his hair. Between two canyons on a highline he is attempting to backflip; only saved from death by a leash tied around his ankle when he fails to land properly.  He tries again and again and again – careless or unaware of his mortality as fans and peers cheer from the safety of the ground beneath them. He also walks across the highline with no safety gear, something most rational minds would risk-assess and say ‘forget it’.

Walking and flipping the line simply isn’t enough for Sketchy Andy, so he comes up with the frightening concept of parachuting his way to back to earth after failed attempts to land tricks on the highline – gliding around dried out canyons screaming like a happy child. Andy is a brand himself: eccentric, highly athletic, gutsy and adventurous.

The featured people in these films are not subhuman, superhuman, or any of the other buzzwords that get thrown around these types of activities and characters. They just have a different perspective: their will is bigger than fear.

This originally appeared on Stephen's blog, which you can find here