Behind the Scenes
Inside the National Paddling Film Fest
By: Conor Mihell
For three decades, a small town in Kentucky has been the site of one of the world’s longest-running paddlesports film festivals. Since 1983, the Bluegrass Wildwater Association, a whitewater club based between Louisville and Lexington, has hosted the National Paddling Film Festival in the town of Frankfort. The two-day event takes place at an old bourbon distillery and coincides with a local downriver race on Elkhorn Creek. The result is a perfect storm of activity in the most unlikely of places, bringing together some of the world’s best paddling filmmakers, an excess of 70 festival volunteers and hundreds of enthusiasts to raise money for river conservation and other non-profit organizations.
The NPFF crowned its 2012 winners on the weekend of Feb. 24, donating $5,000 to the river conservation group, American Whitewater, and $2,000 to other non-profits. CanoeKayak.com asked local boater Brandon Jett, NPFF director since 2010, for his take on this year’s event.
Canoe & Kayak: What was the big highlight for you in the 2012 festival?
Brandon Jett: Definitely getting Steve Fisher [whose film Halo Effect won the NPFF's top award in 2011] to host it. He drew a huge crowd. He talked about his Congo trip [completed last December] and gave a spiel about growing up kayaking. He hung out and partied with us and said he wants to make it an annual event. He was a great host.
How do you get a guy like Fisher on board?
I just called him up and asked him. Last year I did the same with Doug Ammons, and the year before that it was Tyler Bradt. It’s been real easy to get these guys to come up.
What’s the scene like in Frankfort on film festival weekend?
It’s a big party. There’s the “Not-NPFF” race on the Saturday, which is such a great crossover. Everyone from the race comes out to NPFF. People start trickling in on Friday, we show the films and have an after-party. On Saturday there’s a silent auction, chili cook-off, more films and tons of beer.
What was your take on this year’s crop of films?
Some always stand out. Gareth Tate’s film was great [High Sierra Safety, winner of the Best Accomplished Documentary award], and I knew Andy [Maser]‘s dam removal film was going to win big [The Craziest Idea, winner of Best Professional Documentary and Best of Show]. Seeing the breach of Condit Dam was pretty cool with in time-lapse. The amateur films are always excellent. We’re big fans of Mike McKay. He always sends us a bunch of stuff and it never fails [Currents: California, winner of Best Amateur Documentary].
What are the challenges of organizing this kind of event?
It’s becoming more of a struggle to get films submitted because so many are out there on the Internet for free. Then the films all seem to come in right at the deadline. But that’s just the way kayakers are, they like to do things at the last minute. We’re trying to go all digital and get our submissions online to make it easier.
Is there anything you’d like to see more of in the future?
I’d like to see more conservation-based films coming in and not just the waterfall hucking. It goes with the AW mandate and is both educational and eye candy. Anyone can put on a helmet cam and bomb down a Class V. It takes more effort to put together something like Andy’s film and the result is more engaging.
And the winners…
Best Professional Documentary: The Craziest Idea by Andy Maser. CLICK HERE to read more.
Best Professional Safety/Instruction: Sea Kayaking with Gordon Brown, Vol 2 — Rescues by Simon Willis
Best Professional General Boating: The North Shore: A Guide to Getting Lost by Chris Galloway. (Stay tuned to C&K for the exclusive debut)
Best Accomplished Documentary: High Sierra Safety by Gareth Tate
Best Accomplished General Boating: Rafting: Outsourced and Sponsors by Tom Gerencer
Best Amateur Documentary: Currents: California by Mike McKay
Best Amateur General Boating: Koontz Flume by Josh & Matt Turner
Best of Show: The Craziest Idea by Andy Maser
Best Still Image: “Monkey Feast” by Trey Cambern