Published on April 04, 2016 by Made Better Media

London Short Film Festival documentary

Meet the Birdmen is a collaboration between Made Better Media and Slack Tide Films, a Shoreham-based production company. It was shown at the London Short Film Festival in 2015.

The film follows two contestants in the Worthing International Birdman competition, a yearly event involving gliding enthusiasts launching themselves from the end of the pier in gliders and homemade flying machines. Sadly, the event will no longer take place as of 2016 but for years it was a fascinating display of British eccentricity, and the first of its kind in the world.  

Many of the participants spent hundreds of hours obsessively preparing for the competition, while some spent half an hour. Whether aboard a unique craft of their own design, piloting a modified hang glider or making a leap of faith in fancy dress and dancing shoes, there was one aim: to travel as far as possible before plunging into the sea. The 100m jackpot prize of £10,000 was a tantalising goal.

Meet The Birdmen focusses on a handful of these eccentric sportsmen and their dreams of airborne glory.

Widower Andrew Jarvis, 66, spends the bulk of his free time working on experimental gliders that he designs and builds at his home in Ferring. Having first competed in the Birdman in 1974, he finds solace in the meticulous work of the design and build process, and he is driven on by his late wife's wish that he gives the Birdman another shot.

Hangliding fanatic Ron Freeman has been obsessed with flying since he was a boy. He loves to win almost as much as he loves the adrenaline buzz of flight.

Tony Hughes has been a rival of Ron's since their days in the British Olympic hang gliding team. Similarly evangelical about the experience of unpowered flight, Tony is cool, confident and determined to fly further than Ron.

But it is not for nothing that Ron is known as ‘The Birdman’ across the South Coast — he is the reigning champion of the Worthing event and has won numerous Birdman competitions, from Bognor to Eastbourne.

As the film builds to a climactic finale, the record books take a battering as Ron and Tony push themselves to the limit, employing risky tactics in high winds as they struggle to outdo each other.

Andrew’s machine falls apart on the launch platform, while Ron flies 116 metres, breaking the record for his class.

The film is available for free here