Sheffield Adventure Film Festival (ShAFF) is back this March, bringing the city an array of hand-picked adventure, travel and extreme sports films from around the world. The festival boasts numerous types of showings, from Adrenaline to Young Adventurer so there is something for everyone. Their hilarious and inspiring trailer is enough to pique most people’s interests, and to give you greater insight into ShAFF’s purpose we spoke to the festival’s director, Matt Heason.

For the people who might not have heard of ShAFF, what’s the idea behind the festival?

It’s essentially a weekend of amazing films about adventure. The average length of the 100 films programmed over the 2.5 days is around 25 minutes. Some are available to watch on YouTube but the vast majority are not easy to get hold of, and don’t get screened publically. We curate them into themed sessions of about 90 minutes so you get to watch the equivalent of a feature length film on a big screen, with big sound and a big crowd. The sessions are pretty inspiring.

ShAFF has been running for 11 years now. How has it changed over the years and what’s different for this year’s festival?

It’s obviously grown in size. We now use the Workstation, where there’s an exhibition area, photo exhibitions, kids’ cinema, second hand kit sale, and more, as well as a cinema screen at Sheffield Hallam University. Aside from the growth, the films have got better. Partly due to better and more affordable technology, but also thanks to 11 years’ worth of programming experience. I often say that literally anybody could walk into ShAFF and find a film or session of films that they would enjoy.


From the films to be shown at the festival, which is most meaningful to you and why?

I’m a sucker for good characters. Much as I like the adrenaline-fuelled eye candy, of which we have a good dose, personally I like narrative-driven films. Unbranded, Flying Dagger and Chasing Niagara are all such films, each featuring amazing people doing truly amazing things. I also like Frank & The Tower for the way it presents a clearly eccentric climber in a way that makes you want to be him.

This year you’ve got a Women in Adventure programme as part of ShAFF. What do you think needs to be done in order for women to be fairly represented in sports broadcasting in the UK?

Where to start? If you look at participation statistics in many of the sports represented at the festival, whilst there isn’t a perfect 50 / 50 balance, they aren’t in too bad a shape. The big imbalance seems to lie in the number of films that feature women as lead characters. This is down to the filmmakers themselves, and their sponsors. There are three films that we’re screening this year that I think could mark a watershed in the trend by proving that women can make perfectly good characters for adventure films, and furthermore, they often best the men.

Operation Moffatt is a short film made by two female fimmakers, one of whom is a judge at ShAFF, and local Sheffield resident (Claire Carter), about an ageing female climber and writer called Gwen Moffatt. On paper this probably doesn’t sound like it will float many boats but it’s sweeping the awards at all the festivals. Basically, good filmmaking and good characters mean good films, regardless of gender.

The second film is Kayaking The Aleutians. Justine Curgenven is a British filmmaker who has been making sea kayaking films for many years. This year she has submitted a film of her and explorer Sarah Outen out on a limb with no support, island hopping from the USA to Russia. Justine didn’t have drones or helicopters, and was presumably limited in the amount of equipment she could carry, but the pair have good chemistry and a real adventure story to tell.

The third film is called 3,022 feet. It’s a film about a crazy (and I don’t use that word lightly) running race in Alaska. It’s clear that the filmmakers set out with the expectation that the men’s race would be where they would focus their attention as this would be where the drama would lie. However, they were caught off guard by the ladies in the film, and the unfolding drama of their races. It’s a lesson that all filmmakers, and ultimately all broadcasters, would do well to heed.


How important is it to ShAFF to represent local filmmakers at the festival?

Increasingly so. Three years ago we had a couple of films entered by students at Sheffield Hallam University. They made their films especially for the festival. Whilst they weren’t of the same quality as many of the other films submitted we felt it was important to give them a platform to show their talents. This year we employed one of them to make our festival trailer and he’s secured some work for Red Bull. There is a strong outdoor community in Sheffield which has generated a strong local filmmaking population. As well as encouraging these filmmakers to submit their films, we also put on an Industry Hangout on the Saturday of the festival where they get a chance to meet each other and dream up new dreams (this is an invitation event – if you’re a filmmaker, or a budding filmmaker) and would like to come, please drop us a line.

How can individuals get involved with the festival?

There’s a section on the website where volunteers can apply to work at the festival. Volunteers, as you will be unsurprised to hear, form the backbone of the event. Without them it simply wouldn’t happen.


Tell us more about your continuing charity partner for this year’s festival.

For the third year running we’ve partnered with Sheffield Hospitals Charity who are raising money for the new helipad at the Northern General Hospital. We feel that there’s a clear correlation between the people who come to the festival, and the helipad appeal. As well as various methods by which people can donate at the event (including a charity fundraiser with local business Wild Country, about the evolution of ‘Friends’ on the Saturday night of the festival) people can opt to add a £1 donation when buying tickets.

What are your goals for the future of ShAFF?

To keep doing what we are doing, to do it better, and to get more people along to the event to share in the inspiring stories and atmosphere.

Interview by Alex Townsend
Images courtesy of ShAFF


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