Q&A with Kendal Mountain Festival director Clive Allen

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As Kendal Mountain Festival gears up to host its first ever ‘virtual’ event, we go behind the scenes with director Clive Allen to find out about the challenges the team faced putting together this year’s event…


When and why did you decide to ‘go digital’ with KMF this year?
From the first lockdown, we knew there would need be a digital element to the event. But up until mid-September we still planned a hybrid, mixing digital with a socially-distanced physical event based around Kendal’s Leisure Centre. But then the ‘rule of 6’ was announced and made it clear that it was time to re-calibrate. We want Kendal to excite and inspire in the same way that it has for forty years, but bringing people together on the ground this particular year with its constantly-shifting guidelines, became impossible.
Describe the scale of the task in creating a virtual event like this from scratch?
Way bigger than you’d think. It really is like creating a new event. We were determined that it would still involve as many people as possible live on stage, otherwise it would look like some kind of endless Zoom call. However, it needed a complete change in headspace because we’re used to delivering a physical event, and suddenly we became broadcasters. And working in a fully Covid-compliant environment, which obviously adds complexity.
What have been the main technological hurdles you’ve had to jump?
First, choosing the right digital platform which had to be able to reliably deliver film, live events, recorded content, a virtual Basecamp, brand support for our partners, social integration, ticketing… without costing a fortune! Then we had to create a pathway to reach that point which involved three seamless website changeovers. Then there’s the actual production; creating a studio with 4 x cameras, tech team to match, producers, directors etc. A tech task similar to setting up the 6 x physical venues we usually work in!
Will the content be substantially different from a regular KMF?
Not really, which is the amazing thing. We’re still producing the big ’sessions’ we usually have; bike, run, underground, swim etc. Plus a few one-off lectures, and the Literature Festival is bigger than ever. The major difference is film – we can curate a much wider film programme as we’re not constrained by venues – plus of course events don’t sell out, and everything’s available on catch-up until 31 December.
How are you attempting to replicate the ‘social’ aspects of the physical festival?
In as many ways as we can. There’s the Adidas virtual 10k run, which you can do wherever you want. We’re planning virtual DJ sets. The Montane Secret Sessions will be limited to around 30 people (actually, those events WILL sell out) who will all be able to see each other on screen and put questions to the star guest. Plus a few other ideas!
What are the ‘big draws’ at this years festival?
We have big names doing individual events – Simon Reeve and Ray Mears for example, and the Brownlee brothers – plus the main Bike and Snow Sessions with top guests. But I think a major draw will be that we have pretty much all of the runners who broke those amazing ultra records over the summer joining us, for the Merrell Mountain Running Session and the Totally FKT film premiere – those will be huge.
And what are you personally looking forward to the most?
All of the above! Then for the climbers there’s the Patagonia Rock Session, the Mammut Mountaineering Session, plus Leo Houlding and team talking about their Roraima ascent. And the Literature Festival looks amazing. Just so much to look forward to – whatever outdoor interest you’re into, there are sessions and films to match.
Does the necessity of going digital this year actually help KMF in the long run, bearing in mind the development of your filmmakers’ platform?
It’s a big investment in infrastructure, time and expertise so yes behind the scenes it will make us more efficient and able to offer more in future to our audiences and filmmakers. But more than anything else we hope it allows us to build on all the extra stuff we do for schools, under-represented groups, creatives including authors, artists and filmmakers, and generally firing people up about the outdoors and the environment.
Will future physical KMF editions also be complemented by an extensive online offering?
Yes it will, not least because it’s taking Kendal to new international audiences. Let’s hope that we’re back to some sort of Festival normality this time next year, but for sure this will be significant part of anything we do going forward.
Kendal Mountain Festival runs for 10 days from Thursday 19th November, and you can buy tickets and get full info at www.kendalmountainfestival.com

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