Anyone familiar with Austin will know that just sitting through his thankyou speech would have been entertainment enough, but the whole evening was wonderful.
It was a gathering of all the names you’ve read about in adventure motorcycling, or who you may have been fortunate enough to meet on the road somewhere. Like Chris Scott author of the Adventure Motorcycle Handbook (and more), who, as Austin rightly pointed out, was almost single handedly responsible for piquing interest in the Sahara as a destination for motorcyclists.
But there were actually two films being shown and the first was particularly moving. Austin Vince has become the Patron for the charity INTERBURNS, an international network for training, education and research in burns, which works primarily in India and Nepal. Rather like Motorcycle Outreach, it’s a charity which wants education to enable those working in burns healthcare to be self-sufficient, and to spread knowledge of prevention and of cure and rehabilitation methods. The evening rightly acted as a fundraiser and we’ll bring you more news of INTERBURNS’ work later.
But on to the film. It would be easy to just say that it’s great, and you should buy it, which you should, but let’s put a few things in context: As with all Austin’s films (Mondo Enduro, Terra Circa, Ladies on the Loose etc) there was no budget. In film-making terms, there was no time; only 4 weeks were available to ride from London to the barely explored ‘Empty Quarter’ of the Sahara in Mauritania and within that time, all the filming had to be done. That’s 5,000 miles, but being Austin, it was off road.
That was an added challenge for the bikes – 10 year old Honda XR400s – and for the camera equipment, especially within the dust and heat of the desert. As with all his films, the footage is a mix of Super 8 and digital and while the robust simplicity of the analogue cameras worked well in the conditions, they also provide the movie with that soft, period look. The result evokes 1970s home movies and ensures an intimacy of an earlier time. Mixing of the two styles has been achieved to great effect here and somehow keeps the film as accessible to viewers as the journey itself is to anyone who wants an adventure motorcycling experience. It’s raw. It’s DIY. It’s good.
The riders involved were an Anglo-American team of 7 (including Austin) chosen for their particular skillset; I think we can all agree that an indepth knowledge of the early electrical lighting is an essential atribute for a journey like this… (you’ll have to watch it). The transatlantic angle is pivotal to the film because it demonstrates that travel brings people together and challenges prejudice. Austin is frank about the team choice:
“I wanted to challenge the bigotries and pre-conceptions that seemed, rather than to be melting away, were hardening. And I’ll say it; the anti-Muslim and anti-Arab paranoia that was sweeping the Christian West in a bush fire of suspicion. I realised I had to take a load of Brits and Yanks to an Arab nation that was on the Foreign Office Al-Qaeda watchlist. CNN seems to suggest that the only way our two great nations get to meet ordinary Arabs is for us to put on a flak-jacket, join a counter-insurgency task force and ask them for their papers.”
It’s an ethos that’s central to Overland magazine and the reason why we feel so optimistic about the future. Everyone should watch this film, take on board the importance of smiling while you travel and the unshakeable truth that the vast majority of the world’s population are the same as you; kind, considerate and willing to help, regardless of skin colour or religious persuasion.
The riding is inspiring, the desert footage awesome. The idea to arrange for supplies to have been hidden in the desert was a real twist, but one that meant they could go much, much further off the beaten track. Following way markers they were able to source fuel, water and fine French cuisine. Although no one should underestimate the power of the Sahara, Mondo Sahara will launch a new desire for exploration and reinvigorate the dreams of a thousand explorers. You should watch it.