For some months I’ve been hinting at another major journey I was planning for later this year. I haven’t cancelled the trip, but I have put it on hold for a while. I’ll explain why, as the reasons deserve some discussion.
To understand the context, we need to return to November last year, when I was dashing from a post-production suite in London’s Soho to the Royal Geographical Society, due to privately screen my documentary Janapar for the first time. Despite the aforementioned post-production house accidentally laying an old version of the soundtrack against the pictures, meaning the wrong music was played, the film went down an absolute storm.
I left with a great deal of reassurance and hope for the project, especially for the film festivals we’d submitted to. We hoped to premiere the film in early 2012, at somewhere like — oh, Sundance, or perhaps Cannes.
As I packed my panniers for America in March, the eagerly anticipated premiere hadn’t materialised. Major festivals were not interested in our labours. Nor were they interested in explaining why. We’d assumed that the substantial fees we’d paid would at least get us some kind of feedback, rather than a series of carbon-copy emails explaining that, due to the sheer volume of submission fees they’d received, they’d found better things to spend the money on than actually helping new filmmakers.
I went to America for two months and came back to find that the list of rejections was still growing. We’d really hoped that the film would be ready to release by the summer, but we hadn’t even premiered it in our home country. We still had no idea when or where the world premiere might be. And you can’t release a film without a premiere, because then the release is the premiere, and your launch — a tangible and important event for any publication or product — passes unnoticed. I began to worry that this would have negative implications for my upcoming trip plans, because we obviously still had a long way to go.
Director James and I decided to throw a free private screening in London for the benefit of those who’d been following the story. It was another fantastic event. It reminded us that the film worked. It told the story I’d always wanted to tell, and it did so authentically and effectively.
I think that London screening was the turning point. The film burst into life at events like this. It meant something to the audience to have the creators present to meet, chat and drink, and it was far more fulfilling to us as filmmakers to be in contact with everyone in person.
We also realised that the boundary between presenter and audience at events such as this is not clear-cut. In attendance were people who’d cycled far more miles than I have, and had more interesting tales to tell. There were people who were planning on throwing their own events, people who wanted to take the film and screen it in their local area, people who asked my involvement in things I hadn’t even thought of. Almost everyone had constructive and positive feedback. Only one cynical heckler managed to sneak in. The event was less presentation and more meet-up of like-minded people, with the film just a starting point.
This was where the film’s future lay; in connections and happenings. The potential seemed immense. But no pompous film festival would bring that potential to fruition. No big distributor or production team would be on hand to run the show. We would have to build this thing ourselves. So we might as well get started.
James had taken a 4‑month contract to make a 60-minute film for BBC1 (it’s on tonight at 9pm, in fact). He was happy to get back on the job in September, which should be enough time to get a DVD published by the end of the year, and to start taking the story further afield. But this would clash head-on with the journey I’d been planning for exactly that time.
With the window of opportunity for summer expeditions closing, I scaled things down to a reconaissance trip in August after finishing my final book rewrite in July. But writing in Armenia didn’t exactly go to plan, either. I faced the difficult task of shaping a thrice-rewritten manuscript of 100,000 words into something remotely readable. Social and family life, while fun, proved too big a distraction for me to get all my thoughts in one place, inspiring a proper rant.
So I booked a ticket to England, where the opportunity to stay in an empty house in the country had just come up. I’m there now, taking two weeks away from all things internet to finish the book in its current form before it goes to an editor. That done, James and I can work on getting Janapar ready for release. We’ll have a final crack at the adventure film festivals, and begin to look at taking the film on the road in early 2013. The first dates are already pencilled in.
Am I bitter about having to put my trip plans on hold? Not really. I’d like to have spent more time out wandering this year, but Janapar is the priority right now. Not only is it a job I want to finish, but storytelling itself has proved an increasingly central part of my travels and adventures, now I’ve served my apprenticeship (thanks to Al for this thought). More than just entertainment, the birth and evolution of a story brings understanding to listener and storyteller alike.
Next year, I do still plan on carrying out this exciting, challenging trip. It’s not a sequel, or an obligation of a being a self-styled ‘adventurer’. Instead, it follows naturally from where I find myself in life. I need to do this. I had to search long and hard within myself before another solo journey made any kind of sense, but it has finally crystallised in a direction which I know is right for me. It’ll probably come as a surprise when I announce it, which should be fun.
In the meantime, the story of Janapar continues to move forward. I’ll be blogging more frequently on our progress as the project gears up for release.