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Published: The Scotsman (TSMag) 17 November 2012

ORSON Welles once said: “A film is never really good unless the camera is an eye in the head of a poet.” What a shame that most major Hollywood studios still seem to think a massive special effects budget is some sort of substitute for artistic vision. But never mind about America, because news has reached us of three homegrown film projects which look set to fulfil Welles’s maxim to the letter – all made possible, to a greater or lesser extent, by online funding models.

The first involves veteran outdoors scribe and backpacking blackbelt Chris Townsend, who has recently announced he will be teaming up with artful lensman Terry Abraham to make a film about the Cairngorms in winter – two poets for the price of one, you might say.

The plan is for Townsend to undertake a series of walks through these majestic mountains, demonstrating the best ways to survive and thrive in such an unforgiving environment, while Abraham captures his wit and wisdom on camera, in addition to some of the stunning scenery they’re bound to encounter along the way.

Abraham’s work to date shows that he’s not afraid to let his camera linger on a landscape – just check out the hypnotic film of a sunrise taken from the top of Aonach Beag on his blog if you need convincing – so The Cairngorms in Winter promises to be a thing of rare beauty. It also promises to have something of a meditative feel to it, with Abraham setting out to reveal “the quieter and more thoughtful moments” of Townsend’s time in the mountains, rather than simply creating an instructional film about backcountry survival.

And, of course, in choosing to make a film about Townsend, Abraham could hardly have chosen a better subject. I was lucky enough to go for a yomp with the long-time Cairngorms resident in the summer, and found his knowledge of his local hills to be nigh-on encyclopaedic. Abraham estimates his film will last for between 45 and 60 minutes. He may find he has to revise those numbers in a northerly direction when he comes to do the final edit. To find out more about the film, or to contribute to it via Kickstarter, visit

Paul Diffley’s Edinburgh-based Hot Aches company is renowned in the climbing world for the way its films immerse the viewer in the action, and many of its best-known productions – E11, The Pinnacle, The Long Hope – have featured top Scottish climber Dave MacLeod tackling impossible looking routes in distinctively Scottish locations. The latest release from the Hot Aches stable, however, features a mixed group of climbers on a road trip around other areas of the UK. The Odyssey follows Brits James Pearson and Hazel Findlay, plus Hansjörg Auer of Austria and Caroline Ciavaldini of France as they visit the Lakes, Pembrokeshire, Shropshire, Northumberland and North Wales, looking for interesting-looking slabs of rock to test their skills against.

Rather than touring The 
Odyssey around mountain film festivals, Diffley is taking the unusual step of streaming it for free on until Tuesday, and during this time the film will be available to buy on DVD or via download at a reduced price. The shape of things to come for niche-interest films? Or perhaps not. Whatever happens, it will be interesting to see how the experiment pans out.

The 2012 Edinburgh Mountain Film Festival has only just finished, but I’m already looking forward to the 2013 event, largely because there’s a chance it will feature James Urquhart’s film Beyond The Mountains. Like The Cairngorms in Winter, the film is partially funded by online donations (see, but rather than focusing on a single Scottish mountain range it features all of them, charting Urquhart’s recent seven-month, 2,500 mile solo Munro round. With its combination of ethereal music and sweeping cinematography, the trailer fairly makes the hairs stand up on the back of the neck, but it’s the interviews Urquhart has conducted with mountain-lovers he encountered on his journey – from a wine-making hermit to a self-confessed reindeer fanatic – that promise to make the film special. As Jimi Hendrix had it, “knowledge speaks, but wisdom 
listens.” Roll on 2013.

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