2020 Paddling Film Festival World Premiere Roundup

One of our favourite “hard water season” traditions has become attending the premiere of Rapid Media’s Paddling Film Festival. Hosted by The Complete Paddler at The Royal Cinema in the heart of Little Italy in Toronto, the film festival often feels like the unofficial kick-off to trip planning season. It gives us permission to look ahead to spring when we can bring our canoe out of storage and hit the water again.

The film festival is full of great memories for us. It’s where we negotiated back and forth to buy our first home three years ago. It’s where we first saw Goh Iromoto’s stunningly beautiful and moving The Canoe. We’ve enjoyed the festival just the two of us – it makes for a nice date night – and we’ve also brought friends along to share our passion for paddling. The festival always has prizes that make you green with envy when you don’t win and a raffle for one prize (a brand new Nova Craft canoe, for example) with raffle ticket prizes going toward a deserving non-profit organization (this year, The Duke of Edinburgh’s International Award).

We think the festival could be a much larger event if it weren’t one of the paddling community’s best kept secrets, so we wanted to introduce you to it here on our blog.

This year in particular, the festival premiere took another step toward inclusivity by featuring more films about women and families. As Rapid Media founder and publisher Scott McGregor said in one of his introductions, paddling films (and outdoors media in general) tend to feature white dudes on grand adventures. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s refreshing to see new faces and different perspectives in 2020. We have a long way to go until the true diversity of Canada and the world is reflected in the media we consume about paddling, camping, and the outdoors, but these baby steps are happening at events like the film festival.

Family Routes

On that note, our top pick from the Paddling Film Festival premiere was Family Routes – hands down. The film, directed by Keith Robertson, follows parents Leanne Robinson and Dwayne Wohlgemuth, and their two sons, four-year-old Emile and one-year-old Aleksi, as they embark on a summer-long canoe trip in the Northwest Territories.

The film has the typical canoe trip fare – paddling scenic waterways, bushwhacking underused portage trails, getting swarmed by bugs – but it also has some incredibly powerful scenes depicting the joys and challenges of parenting two very young children in the backcountry…and also the downsides of sharing that story with the world (including, sadly, anonymous online commenters saying that family services should take their children away from them for putting them in such danger).

My favourite scene featured Leanne struggling to put on a canoe pack that looked like it weighed more than she did while Aleksi cried nearby; when she finally got the pack on, she still had to bend down to pick up the crying baby and strap him to her chest. Watching how incredibly strong and patient women – and mothers in particular – can be even in the most challenging situations brought tears to my eyes. By the end of the film, I was nearly sobbing with emotion.

This is the kind of representation many of us have been dying to see. If there is a Paddling Film Festival event coming up near you, I recommend requesting your local host that this film be included in the selection.

Here’s the Family Routes trailer:

A Kayaker’s Solo Adventure In India

On the adventure end of the spectrum, A Kayaker’s Solo Adventure In India was a total rollercoaster ride. The film, directed by David Arnaud and produced by Corinna Halloran for Red Bull TV, features world champion French paddler Nouria Newman as she plummets down the Zanskar and Indus rivers alone in a tiny kayak.

There isn’t much to this 13-minute film, but Nouria’s expressive nature helps you feel every emotion that she’s feeling – joy, panic, fear, happiness – as you ride these huge rivers along with her. There’s also something powerful about watching a woman take on such a challenging trip in a part of the world that doesn’t always treat women – especially women who are alone in places dominated by men – particularly well.

Red Bull has a great interactive page with tons of detail about the trip and, luckily, the full-length short film is already online:

Lawaiʻa, A Family Fishing Fable

We’re not necessarily big adventure fishing fans, but we couldn’t help but be drawn to the small story of fisherman Nick Wakida. This film, produced as a piece of content marketing by water-repellant clothing brand Grundéns, depicts Nick at home in Maui, Hawaii, casually hooking and reeling massive fish into his open-top kayak. These are the types of fish that most tourists expect to catch on so-called deep-sea fishing trips from their resorts. A quick Google search reveals that he once caught a record-breaking 187.6 pound ahi tuna in his kayak!

Nick’s story is all about the connection the Hawaiian people have with the waters that surround their islands, as well as the important role catching and eating fish for and with their community plays in their culture to this day.

The full 6-minute short film is available on the Grundéns YouTube channel:

By Hand

If there was one film that had going “WTF?” the entire time we were watching, it was By Hand. The Kickstarter-funded film by Kellen Keene features two California bros (literally, they are twins) paddling 2,200 miles / 3,500 kilometres from Alaska to Califonia. Not in canoes. Not in kayaks. On paddleboards. Without paddles! Casey and Ryan Higginbotham paddle by hand while lying down on their paddleboards, which is, I assume, how the film got its title.

As you might expect, By Hand is more about the relationship between the two twin brothers than the journey itself. It’s an excellent reminder for paddlers of all kinds about the importance of planning and preparation, and how sometimes things can still go wrong even when you think you’ve covered all your bases. Most of all, though, it’s just about the power of the human will and how we are capable of putting our bodies and minds through terribly hard things even when every fibre of our being is telling us not to.

Here’s the one-minute teaser trailer for the film:

The other films at the Paddling Film Festival premiere were also great – they included:

Iceolation, the story of a New Zealand couple’s two-week, self-supported kayak journey along the Antarctic Peninsula:

Banking On Bailey, a cute little video about the unofficial mayor of kayaking hotspot Banks, Idaho (population 17) by outdoor brands Filson and Merrell:

And Can’t Ski Vegas, the ultimate white-dudes-on-a-grand-adventure film about a bunch of guys on a rafting/ski bachelor trip that doesn’t go exactly as planned:

We still have to watch the rest of the trailers and films that will appear at other Paddling Film Festival events across North America in the coming months, but at least they’ll hold us over until spring.

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Cassandra Jowett is a marketer who works at a software startup in Toronto. Her love of the great outdoors first started at the base of the Rocky Mountains when her parents took her camping as a baby. It blossomed as an adult when Brian began taking her canoe tripping in the Ontario backcountry.

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