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Exploring Our Planet with the ‘What a Trip!’ Festival in Montpellier

Exploring Our Planet with the ‘What a Trip Festival’ in Montpellier
By Liam Klenk

At the end of September 2020, I was fortunate to experience the What a Trip! festival in the beautiful city of Montpellier, in France. This festival is a celebration of travel and nature, presented through the eyes of documentary filmmakers and photographers.

The What a Trip! festival was founded in 2016. For 4 days each year, the Charles de Gaulle Esplanade in Montpellier transforms into a giant bivouac called the ‘Village du Voyage’.

Information booths inform the visitors about regions of our planet they might not even have heard of before.

Film makers and photographers come to personally share and discuss their stories with the audience.

And food from around the globe helps hundreds of aspiring nomads to at least travel in their imagination.

Right there at the Charles de Gaulle Esplanade is also the old ‘Cinemotographe Pathe’ cinema, where the audience can watch the documentary movies.

Cinematographe Pathe

Next door, in the Musée Fabre, are the photography exhibitions.

The mission of the festival organizers is to foster a better understanding of our planet through the practice and culture of travel.

As such, the international festival is a gathering of travel and adventure lovers; around a film competition that highlights alternative ways of travel, exploration, and seeing the world.

What a Trip!

In his opening speech of the What a Trip! festival on September 25, 2020, the head of the organizing committee stated, “The movies and photo exhibitions you will see during the next few days are about travel. And I mean journeys, not tourism. These journeys portrayed here are profound experiences, made by individuals as they explore our planet.”

In recent years, the festival had attracted huge crowds of travel as well as documentary film enthusiasts.

This year, due to Covid19 regulations, audience space was halfed. And also at the entrance to the ‘Village du Voyage’, security teams made sure not too many people entered at the same time.

Inside the ‘Cinematographe Pathe’ cinema, every second seat was blocked with tape. The few hundred seats that were left were sold out for every single documentary.

I was lucky to get tickets for three films.

The first was the opening film of this year’s festival, called Éternel Émerveillé (Eternal Wonder).

It was a portrait of the French nature photographer Vincent Munier, who travels alone to the farthest regions of our planet to portrait animals like it has never been done before.

And truly, I was mesmerized as I watched Éternel Émerveillé. Never before had I seen photography like this.

After the documentary, the organizers called Vincent Munier on Skype and we were able to ask him questions about his work and travels. This was especially charming since he was joined by his tame chicken Pou Pou for most of the Video Q&A.

Vincent Munier

It is hard to describe Vincent Munier’s photographs without taking away from their sensitive power.

Munier somehow becomes one with the animals he captures on camera. Sometimes, he waits for them for days, slowly understanding them to get close enough to take a picture.

But he does not just take a picture. He recognizes the animals’ souls and manages to manifest this in his photographs.

See for yourself, as the full documentary Éternel Émerveillé is already available for free on YouTube (in French):

It’s an hour of your life you will not regret!

The second movie I had the privilege of watching was about a group of scientists and divers calling themselves ‘Under the Pole’.

The documentary was about one of their expeditions to French Polynesia. On this specific endeavor, they were on a quest to learn more about corals.

Amazingly, they found corals at depths as far as 150 m below the surface!!!

Something that was long thought to be impossible and might show that corals are changing with their environment. And becoming ever more resilient and adaptable.

It’s a ray of hope for the oceans, for our entire planet, and for humanity.

Here is a short video about the film Polynesie, la Quête des Profondeurs (Polynesia, the Quest for the Depths), in French:

Last but not least, the French underwater photographer Laurent Ballesta literally swept me away. Have you heard of him?

The exhibition of his photographs was at the Musée Fabre. Each photo was more brilliant than the one before it.

It was then only fitting that the documentary film about Laurent Ballesta and his bold explorations was also the closing film of the What a Trip! festival.

Called Planète Mediteranee (Mediterranean Planet), the film took us deep below the surface of the Mediterranean Sea.

Ballesta and his team of altogether 4 divers spent 28 days living in a steel habitat of just 5 square meters.

The habitat resembled a little pill in the vast reaches of the ocean, suspended at 120 meters below the surface.

From this base, Ballesta’s team went for exploration dives every single day.

Thus, discovering a Mediterranean still completely unknown.

Apart from this genius feat of exploration, Ballesta’s camera work is incredible.

Watching the movie, or simply looking at his photographs, I felt as if I was diving with him. As if I could sense every drop of water caressing my skin.

Even just watching the trailer of Planète Mediteranee will give you goosebumps. I guarantee (in English):

Or watch the full movie here (in French):

Needless to say, traveling all over the world in a cinema at a time when traveling has become incredibly complicated if not nearly impossible was invigorating for a nomad, explorer, and passionate scuba diver like me.

And it was an additional treat to be able to experience all this in one of Montpellier’s oldest movie theatres.

Thank you to the entire team of the What a Trip! festival for still making the magic possible under challenging conditions due to Covid-19.

Merci beaucoup pour ce voyage extraordinaire!

Thank you What a Trip! team

More from Liam Klenk:

Bewegtes Land, an Art Project For Train Passengers

The Momentous Re-Opening of Montpellier’s La Comédie

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