SFS Alumni to take on the Mongol Rally

MongolRallyPiratePullingSuzukiIn July this year, four of our graduates, Clementine Oldfield, Davide Carta, Filippo Grando and Samuel Dunn, along with friend Zacharie Darroch will set off on what will surely be the trip of a lifetime: The Mongol Rally.

 The Mongol Rally, organised by “The Adventurists”, is a car rally that begins in London, UK and ends in Ulan BatorMongolia. According to Wikipedia, it is the “greatest adventure in the world”. 

 It is not a traditional rally: it’s not a race, no prize is awarded for first place, there is no support team provided and no other arrangements are made such as accommodation. Indeed, the diminutive vehicles (maximum engine displacement of 1,200cc!!) are deliberately inappropriate for the task, and in keeping with the adventurous spirit of the rally.

Sounds like the basis for a great documentary doesn’t it? 

Team “Quartermaster” Clem gives us a glimpse into what inspired this bunch of SFS alumni to embark on such an epic adventure, how their planning is progressing and what they plan to do in such a small car for such a long period of time.


I suppose it all started with Filippo Grando: the paper hat wearing, photograph taking, Italian speaking SFS graduate. He studied at the film school in 2010 and like many others, had made far too many friends in Sydney to leave just yet and decided to stick around after graduation. He moved in with a handful of other film-crazy students and SFS alumni and continued to work on short films, music videos and feature films alike. Three years later, his visa came to an end and although he definitely wasn’t ready, it was time to start thinking about going home.Screen Shot 2014-05-26 at 11.09.58 amAbove: Filippo on set

His impending departure was hanging over his head for months and, although everybody promised to visit him in Italy, he proposed an idea that he hoped would tempt them over sooner rather than later… A 15000km drive from England to Mongolia, aka: The Mongol Rally.

When I first heard about the rally, the first thought that crossed my mind was: : “Who would be crazy enough to drive a third of the way around the world with no support or GPS over unmapped desert in a car the size of a lawnmower?”.

I signed up a week later.

I like to think that I needed more convincing but I was sold the minute I heard that danger and adventure would be involved. Pretty soon we had a full team that comprised of 80% filmmakers. It only seemed natural to plan as many films to make on the journey as possible; including (but not limited to) a full documentation of the adventure from beginning to end.

We naively believed that the hurdles would begin when we started driving from London. They actually started to come at us the moment we sat down to organize our visas. Between the starting line in Battersea Park and the finish line in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, we will be driving through twenty different countries. This means acquiring visas from Mongolia, Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, the notoriously strict Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan and Turkey.  Each visa application comes with its own unique set of obscure rules and the whole process takes about fifteen times longer than you anticipate. Our precious passports are currently sitting on somebody’s desk in the Kazakhstan embassy in Singapore. It’s enough to make your stomach churn.

One of the other major hurdles that we encountered as a team was to decide on what we should call ourselves. We all agreed that the team name would have to be perfect. It would have to define us cleverly and have enough wit to make other teams both admire and envy us. Beyond that – we couldn’t agree on anything.

For a long while, we were called “I Khan’t Believe it’s not Baatar”. This was a result of Sam exclaiming the first pun that came to mind and nobody else having a better idea. After weeks of discussion and pages upon pages of facebook group messaging, we were down to two options. “Tsar Wars: The Empire Strikes Yak” and, what ended up being the winner: “Battletsar Galactikhan”. As you can see, our priorities clearly lie in cheap puns and science fiction.

Yak-WalkerCylon-HatAbove: Two of our many logo incarnations

The next most important thing that we had to decide on was how we were going to get to Mongolia. The combinations of countries and cities that we can go through are endless and none of us know the slightest thing about travelling central Asia. The route that we finally decided on was: “England, France, Belgium, Germany, Czech Republic, Poland, Ukraine, Transnistria, Moldova, Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey, Georgia, Azerbaijan, a ferry across the Caspian Sea, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Russia and finally Mongolia. This (fingers crossed) should take us 6 weeks to complete. And then we drive back.
Screen Shot 2014-05-26 at 10.59.06 am
Above: A previous rally team’s car (Credit: The Adventurists)

If you do a quick Google search of the rally, you’ll find blog after blog that talks about the difficulties that people have faced while stuck at a border crossing for days, trapped on a freighter boat on the Caspian sea, avoiding the reckless drivers of Romania or trying to fix broken axles on their way to the “Door to Hell”. But for every horror story, there are countless heart-warming tales of the kindness of strangers. Many a team have spent the night in a Mongolian family’s yurt and shared a bottle of vodka with the locals in Siberia.

That being said, we aren’t doing this purely to risk our lives or to taste the various varieties of Russian vodka – there are bigger things at stake.

In the spirit of the rally, each team commits to raising at least £1000 for charity. The official Rally charity is Cool Earth, an organization that works alongside indigenous villages to halt rainforest destruction. In the words of The Adventurists, “Where would we get lost if we didn’t have jungles?”

But we didn’t think we should stop there. Not only do we want to raise more than just the minimum amount, but we have also chosen a second charity to support. The Lotus Children’s Centre is a place in Ulaanbaatar that provides shelter, food and education to vulnerable and abused children in Mongolia’s capital city. At the end of the trip, we will be spending some time at the centre, volunteering and shooting films with the kids.

Ger kids pink hats
Above: The Lotus Children’s Centre

As for how five people will survive 12 weeks in a very small car… well, we are all good friends so hopefully we’ll be ok. Filippo and Davide can talk to their hearts’ content about AC Milan and we’ll become grand masters of travel scrabble and “I Spy”. The music choice is going to be on a strict rotation or all hell might just break loose. Whatever happens, arguments make for great documentary content. 


Team Battletsar Galactikhan will be posting blog entries as often as internet access allows, but will be keeping a diary to catch us up when they can. And of course, with a car literally full of filmmakers, you can rest assured there will be plenty of great footage to come out of this adventure!

If you’d like to help Clem, Davide, Filippo, Sam and Zac, to help others, please consider contributing to their campaign here.                  

You can track the team’s progress directly by signing up to their blog and following them on facebook. SFS will also keep you up to date via our bulletins. 

SFS wish Clem, Davide and team, a safe and amazing trip and we can’t wait to hear all about it!

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