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The Banff Mountain Film Festival 2015: Interview with Alastair Humphreys and Leon McCarron

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Ever seen that Travelodge advert ‘there’s no sleep ’til bedtime’? It promotes action-packed days of fun and adventure (swimming, cycling, playing etc) before residing to your room for a great night's sleep in a warm and comfortable bed. Well this festival is like a taking-the-cake version of that really; there’s no hotel, no bed and the activities are somewhat less family friendly - from death-defying mountain biking and night time skiing, to having the skin of your ass torn open by relentless jagged rocks in the New Mexico desert.

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The Banff Mountain Film Festival is considered to be the most prestigious festival of its kind, celebrating the most accredited film makers and explorers in the world and placing them and their ventures firmly in the spotlight. The eight shortlisted films this year (ranging from two to forty minutes) take us to all corners of the globe, from the Venezuelan Amazon and the China-Mongolia border, to the northern reaches of Canada to the Yosemite Valley in California - and that’s just one film. It has to be said, there are things here that will well and truly boggle the mind. That run you went on this morning - forget about it. And as for that thigh-busting bike ride you enjoyed - did you forward flip over a fence? Thought not! Jaw dropping as the physical achievements of these films are, what makes these films so captivating and enjoyable to watch is their accessibility and familiarity, not necessarily in terms of the action and adventure, but the relentless drive of the tenacious ambition and focus that we all have the capacity to activate within ourselves to achieve our goals: whether its to lose weight, conquer a fear or other personal targets. Rather than exhibiting untouchable machines programmed solely for thrill-seeking, these films portray delightful journeys of ambition, conviction, humanity and good spirit. The festival is undeniably encouraging and inspiring, but for most of us this will probably be on a more grounded level; to be more ambitious, adventurous and driven within our lives and day-to-day activities, rather than sweat it out in the blistering desert heat climbing a rock tower in the shape of a massive cock.

We caught up with Alastair Humphreys and Leon McCarron, the makers of Into the Empty Quarter, a film which exhibits the 45 day journey of the two adventurers as they drag a homemade steel cart through the fierce desert heat of the Arabian desert. This beautifully-shot film is a real visual diamond, capturing the timeless beauty of the immense expanses of wilderness, as well as providing a fantastically compassionate look at the strengthening of human relations both between themselves and the people of the Middle East.

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What can you tell us about your inspirations for this film project?

We were inspired by Wilfred Thesiger's journey in his book Arabian Sand. Our journey was inspired by him but not a recreation. He used camels. We pulled a terrible homemade cart!

What preparations did you make for your venture?

Not enough! About 2 months before I was due to go to the South Pole but that trip fell through so this trip was a real rush! We were both already fit so most of our efforts were on building a cart and working out where we could resupply with water.

What was the greatest challenge you faced?

The varied terrain. We knew that we would encounter Tarmac, dirt tracks, gravel plains and deep sand. Our cart then was always going to be a compromise...

What was the biggest enjoyment of your adventure?

The people we met! The kindest most welcoming people I have ever met. They laughed a lot, gave us food and water and thought we were crazy. The real, good, friendly Middle East.

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Having not known each other very well before this expedition, how would you say the relationship between yourselves developed throughout your experience?

Very well indeed. At first we were quite formal and polite. By the end we were swearing and abusing each other: always the sign of a good friendship! We became very good friends.

Describe the brutalities of the environment you contended with.

Rationed water, hauling a 300kg cart, dried food. But the worst was the blazing sun which sucks every drop of energy from you. At noon we lay like mechanics under our cart in the only scrap of shade we could find for a couple of hours just pouring sweat.

A lot of adventurers choose to document their experiences through writing. Why do you consider the visual arts to be the most appropriate medium for your endeavours?

We are both writers. But I'm learning to love the challenge of trying to tell a story through video. It's much harder than writing. And TouTube allows us to engage with a wider, bigger audience than our niche appeal travel books.

Do you have a core production team that you work with?

We did all the filming ourselves. We worked with a great guy (Scott) who helped us coax a coherent story out of all our ramblings!

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Do you have any other exciting ventures lined up?

Our desert film showed at the Banff festival in Canada last year. We flew out to it but decided to walk from the airport to the festival instead of taking a bus. We are now making a film about this journey.!..!

Banff Moutain Film Festival films: Touch (5 minutes) Into the Empty Quarter (20 minutes) Sun Dog (5 minutes) Drawn (40 minutes) The Ridge (7 minutes) Mending the Line (20 minutes) Afterglow (3 minutes) Sufferfest 2 (27 minutes)