Shextreme is an action research project by Dr Ruth Farrar that considers how mountain and adventure film festivals can play an active, progressive role in improving the representation of women in adventure films, both on screen and behind the camera.
The result is the Shextreme Film Festival, the world’s first film festival celebrating women in adventure, held in Bristol every year since 2015, with Shextreme Film Tours in the UK and France.
Attracting 100 people in its first year in 2015, the film festival grew to well over 1000 people by its third year. Supported by the British Film Institute, the project takes place every year in Bristol, alongside Shextreme Film Tours in the UK and France, reaching circa 1,600 people. The project made extensive use of public engagement methods, initiating a conversation about the need for gender diversity in adventure filmmaking, and how festivals could afford progressive change. Data was gathered from interviews with film festival directors, with a survey – developed with industry partner Women in Adventure – taken by over 2,500 women from 12 countries. With further support from the British Film Institute and other industry partners such as Ellis Brigham, the Shextreme Film Festival emerged as a case study for how to use research-as-festivals to enact substantial public and industry change.
The public engagement methodological process underpinning the project led to several discoveries: firstly, that watching adventure films featuring diverse representations of women at film festivals measurably inspires more women to try out new adventure sports, and secondly, that attending adventure film festivals increases women’s wellbeing. These findings were disseminated in three ways. First, a report was distributed to adventure industry partners including Outdoor Industries Association and Outdoor Women’s Alliance, who utilised the research in their campaigns to encourage more female participation in the outdoors. Second, a Guidelines Framework was disseminated to 20 film festival directors worldwide detailing scalable initiatives. Third, the work was published in Research for All journal. Finally, and in line with the project’s action research approach, Farrar launched Shextreme Alliance, the first international network for female adventure filmmakers which serves as a platform for professional knowledge exchange and mobilisation of women’s voices in film.