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Live / stage review

ShAFF 2022 Preview

Ahead of the full Sheffield Adventure Film Festival 2022 programme (18-20 March), this preview event does a good job of setting the tone, from incredible outdoor challenges to touching human stories.

11 March 2022 at
Running Free film still

Still from Running Free, which is screening at ShAFF 2022.

If you're looking for motivation to get outdoors, check out this weekend's Sheffield Adventure Film Festival (ShAFF), which includes everything from film screenings at the Showroom to hikes at Ladybower and Parkwood. I visited their preview event at the Sheffield Cathedral last week and got a slice of many of the films on the programme.

Although full-band music was on the docket, a positive Covid test sent plans into disarray. Some low-key acoustic music smoothed over the intermissions instead, courtesy of Teah Lewis. The show goes on, and the preview event was sold out anyway.

ShAFF's Anna Paxton, herself a mountain runner and film producer, told me that they were the first event of 2020 to get cancelled at the Showroom due to Covid; one of their first screenings back at the cinema this week was sold out. With the energy and dedication it takes to curate and put on an event like this, it only seems like good karma.

A little about the films in question. There was Joss Naylor’s meditative tone-poem about her 100-mile run around the Lake District, ruminating, stream-of-consciousness style, on the sights and sounds of her adventuring, her friends and peers, and why it’s all worth it. Touching The Water is cheesy at points but it's also impossible not to get swept up in Naylor’s enthusiasm, even when she doesn’t break the record she was aiming for, or when she suffers a rough leg injury right out the gate (she completed the whole run despite it).

There’s the infamous Danny MacAskill, who shows up in a couple of films as part of ShAFF’s popular Adrenaline Sessions, riding down the Dubh Slabs on the Isle of Skye—if “riding” is even the right word for what McAskill does, cascading down insane heights with a GoPro. If this is what you’re looking for, the ShAFF programme promises thrills like diving, parachuting, adaptive skiing and loads more.

A film that especially caught my eye was Running Free, courtesy of Owen Cant and Cosmic Joke, which explores the lives of a group of immigrants hailing from Somalia, Syria and other countries who have found refuge in an idyllic mountain town in the south of France. The film's coda tells us that since the Calais Jungle (the refugee and migrant camp) closed in 2016, over 6,000 refugees were relocated to temporary accommodation, presumably with varying degrees of success. In Running Free, which centres on just one of these places, Saint Léger-La-Montagne, they found peace at a running club. There’s a unifying quality to this one that humbles you.

These films concern the interior to the exterior; the therapeutic world of exercising our minds to the shifting cultural and social significance of places like Africa (Bantu Wax) and Turkey (Follow The Light). For all its branding and emphasis on being a Sheffield event, put together by locals for locals, ShAFF's programme is truly global. Maybe that’s the trick to Sheffield.

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