A cinematic celebration of women in extreme sports and adventure filmmaking reached new levels of success this year, as the Shextreme Film Festival returned to Falmouth with a sold-out event at the Poly Theatre.
Devised and developed by Dr Ruth Farrah whilst she was learning to rock climb, the events aim to inspire and empower women to document their adventures after she identified a shortfall represented in extreme sports films. Every evening boasts a uniquely F-rated line-up of female led documentaries and includes stories from all over the world.
“My background is in film and my immediate inclination was to look into whether there were any awesome climbing films out there to inspire me,” said Farrah. “When I started looking around I thought, ‘Where are all the women?’
“I would go to lots of adventure film screenings and you’d have a 50/50 male and female audience, but maybe just one token female lead film if you were lucky. I was like, that isn’t reflecting reality because when I go to the climbing centre there are sometimes more women than men. Participation seems equal so why isn’t that reflected onscreen as well?”
In an attempt to address the imbalance, Ruth devised Shextreme, the first film festival of its kind to exclusively, collectively celebrate women in extreme sports in film.
“I’ve got a Niece called Anna who is ten years old, and I started thinking that if she Google searches the same thing in years to come, what videos are going coming up? The majority out there are very much lifestyle focussed, bikini clad women, not really relatable.
“I started to gather up films and I created a bit of an online archive of empowering female sports films, called Shextreme.tv. Through that archive, lots of fascinating people got in touch with me and one way to celebrate them all was to start a film festival.”
Despite the niche of its target subject and audience, Shextreme thrived with massive popularity and is now in its third year of touring. Cold water surfing with Lee-Ann Curren, a story of summiting Everest with Mollie Hughes, a solo paddle boarding expedition around the Isle of Skye by Cal Major and an urban skateboard project in Johannesburg, South Africa were all featured in the roster of films shown at Falmouth’s event at the Poly Theatre this October.
“I put on the first Shextreme film festival in 2015 at the Cube Cinema in Bristol and during my research beforehand, I realised that nothing like that had existed before. I was so excited about it but also a bit sad because in 2015, how was it the world’s first?”
And despite the full cinema seats and sold-out success of even Shextreme’s earliest events, an unexpected warning rose from within the action sports industry itself.
“At our very first film festival one or two companies told me they’d done the women’s theme, that it won’t really work, ‘forget it, we tried it a few years ago. Don’t waste your time,’ they said. My gut instinct was propelling me forwards and we then sold-out every tour date in advance.”
Farrah channeled this momentum and took the tour around the French Alps in 2016, also classifying the films included in their line-up as F-rated.
The concept, developed by Holly Tarquini, Executive Director of FilmBath applies to any film that is directed by a woman, and or written by a woman, and or stars significant women in their own right.
“Usually when women are onscreen, they’re talking about a man,” said Farrah.
“Once you see it, you can’t un-see it! The ‘F’ rating celebrates films that are promoting active women onscreen and we’re quite proud that our entire program is F rated. It is pretty unusual for a film tour to have.”
Q&A’s and panel discussions with featured filmmakers or athletes regularly feature during the festival events allowing the directors, producers or athletes themselves to personally describe their experiences.
“Speaking to people like Mollie and CaI onstage makes it feel more real, more relatable and attainable in a way,” said Farah.
“I really feel like all the Shextreme films talk about the psychological side of adventures as well as the physical. Rather than a lot of adventure films focusing on ‘how fast how high’, I’m more curious about asking, ‘what’s going through your mind when you’re at the top of the mountain about to speed down on your snowboard? It feels like they share the whole story with you. It’s incredibly inspiring.”
If you have an adventure documented in film, you can submit them through the Shextreme website.
— shextreme (@shextreme_) October 12, 2017