Film: “Portrait of The American Climber”
Filmmaker Oakley Anderson-Moore’s father, Mark, was a “full-time” climber for 13 years starting in the early 1970s. He picked fruit during harvest seasons and climbed when he wasn’t picking fruit. In this incredibly exhaustive journalistic effort, she tries to capture that story, and an incredible amount of the other stories in the history of American climbing. By the time the film was finished, literally hundreds of people were involved in the grassroots effort — including the 50 or so legendary climbers interviewed, and the more than 150 donors who contributed upwards of $14,000 on Kickstarter.com. The film is so grassroots that the filmmakers stayed at my pal Lee’s house when they stopped by the American Mountaineering Center in Golden to do an advance screening. Climbers interviewed by the crew (who crossed the country to do many of them) include Royal Robbins, Tom Frost, John Gill, Allen Steck, John Bachar, Lynn Hill, John Long, Ron Kauk, Ed Webster, Peter Croft and Tommy Caldwell, just to name a few. Tons of fantastic historic footage, including the opening scene in the film, archival news footage of the first ascent party topping out on The Nose on El Capitan in 1958. Oakley’s father wasn’t a famous climber, but he’s sharing the stage with about every other famous climber in American history here. I’ve been excited for this movie to come out ever since the advance screening in November 2010. “Portrait of The American Climber” is a nice balance to compliment all the contemporary climbing films that celebrate the most-difficult-route-du-jour — we spend all this time looking forward in tiny increments, but not enough looking back at the pioneers who got climbing to where it is now. www.rockadventuremovie.com
Film: “A Skier’s Journey,” by Jordan Manley
I thought I’d get in one last ski movie before Mud Season starts, and Jordan Manley’s is a good one (or three) to end on. This isn’t the standard hyper-expensive, multi-sponsor, mega-star affairs that are released every fall — it’s a series of three short films on Vimeo, sponsored by Arcteryx and Gore. Photographer Jordan Manley sought to tell stories about traveling and skiing some of the world’s most interesting places all in one trip, including the Gulmarg Gondola, the highest operating cable car in the world, in Kashmir; lift-served ski mountaineering via the Téléphérique La Grave in La Grave, France; and Banff and the Freshfield Icefield in the Canadian Rockies. The cinematography here is great; better than you might expect from someone whose day job is still photography. Manley uses his eye for still shots to compose some great footage, which definitely doesn’t spend the entire time capturing dudes ripping the gnar — although there is some of that. This series is art, not ski porn — no let’s-get-a-shot-of-our-helicopter-from-our-other-helicopter stuff; it emphasizes travel, culture, nature and danger as well as high-level skiing. Jordan Manley deserves big-money cameras and big-money sponsorship for this kind of work, and the world would be a better place if saw more films from him in the future.
Maybe you know this joke: “How many tele skiers does it take to screw in a light bulb? Three. One to do it and two to stand at the bottom and say, ‘Nice turns, bro.’” This video, made a few years ago by someone named “AT Anonymous” and sent in to TelemarkTips.com in 2003, has resurfaced because a guy named Tom Kracji saved it and uploaded it to YouTube last January. It’s brilliant, discussing the maker’s addiction to backcountry ski gear and asking the tough question: should he switch to an Alpine Touring set-up instead? He shares gems like “People say it has something to do with it being more graceful or soulful than regular skiing, and I kind of agree, don’t you? I mean, this is some graceful shit right here.” And “The backcountry is a place where there are no lifts, where you find a lot of telemark skiers.” Plenty of faceplants and deadpan humor make it worth your 11 minutes.
You have to respect Chris Davenport’s ingenuity and creativity, as a skier and a businessman. He went from downhill skiing, to extreme skiing championships, to being a ski fi lm star, to skiing all of Colorado’s 14ers in a single year, and somehow along the way, has not had to hang it up and get a “real” job to feed his kids. With “Australis,” he’s made it clear that the job of being Chris Davenport is maybe just keeping us excited about whatever he dreams up next. In late 2009, Davenport gathered up a couple friends (pro skier couple Stian Hagen and Andrea Binning) and a fi lm crew, got on a boat named “Australis” and headed to the Antarctic Peninsula for some ski mountaineering. I’ll tell you, I enjoyed the crap out of this movie, with the disclaimer that I’m a sucker for any ski movie not involving dudes getting dropped off via helicopter. The footage of Davenport, Hagen and Binning carving turns on slopes that end in the deep blue Antarctic Ocean will probably make you want to shut your TV off and get out there yourself, even if you’re used to seeing a lodge at the bottom of your ski hills, as most of us are. The fi lm will be touring a few locations in the Mountain West in December and January. $24.95. www.antarcticskiodyssey.com
The guys at Powderwhore are defi nitely not taking themselves too seriously with their sixth telemark fi lm, “TeleVision.” In the fi rst 10 minutes, a scraggly skier asks during a parody commercial for TeleMatch.com, “Does your wardrobe consist of plaid, tiedye and corduroy? Are you sick of going to fancy restaurants and granola’s not even on the menu? Do you have a job? Nice. I hate working. Do parallel turns turn you off? If you answered ‘yes’ to any of these questions, come meet guys like me at TeleMatch.com.” Later, an ad for “Brogaine” promises: “It gives you the hair and attitude you need to shred the gnar.” Skier Megan Michelson is spliced into an episode of “America’s Next Top Model,” and gets grilled by the judges. Skier Jake Sakson gives us a tour of his ambulance-turned-ski-bum-van-slash-apartment in an episode of “Powderwhore Cribs.” And in between all the laughs, there is some great footage of tele skiers ripping in the mountains of Haines, Alaska, the Chugach Range and the Wasatch Mountains (sometimes next to their bootpacking tracks) and in the terrain park. There’s even a segment of crashes, some epic, some just awkward, human moments, which keep the fi lm down to earth — although you still won’t walk away from this movie thinking you can ski the same lines the cast members do. $27. www.powderwhore.com
I’ve liked the work of the folks at High Plains Films ever since I was a grad student at the University of Montana and saw “This Is Nowhere,” their documentary about the RVers who travel around the country, only “camping” in Wal-Mart parking lots. Their documentaries have covered a range of topics, from the asbestos-caused health problems in Libby, Montana, and profiled MG pal and Canyon Country Zephyr publisher Jim Stiles. Their newest documentary, “Facing The Storm,” covers another Western issue: the wild bison. Or not so wild anymore, depending who you ask. “Facing the Storm,” co-produced with The Independent Television Service and Montana Public Television, is historical, political, environmental and damned interesting. There’s footage of bison being herded back into Yellowstone Park (so Montana cattle ranchers can tout their state as “brucellosis-free”) with snowmobiles, helicopters and police cars; footage of bison being shot at close range; footage of bison being killed in slaughterhouses; interviews with cattle ranchers, native Americans who are building the Inter-Tribal Bison Cooperative, bison ranch owners, wildlife biologists, historians and animal rights activists like John Lilburn, the man who was convicted of “hunter harassment” when he stood between a hunter and a bison in 1990. We’ve had a long relationship with this Western icon, from hunting it to near extinction in the 19th century, brought it back, but artificially try to keep it in the perfect square that is Yellowstone National Park, and now, as one of the interviewees in the film says, “The great Wild West of the migrating bison herds, I think is a thing of the past. There’s just no place for that to happen anymore.”
One of my favorite stories from the nonprofit I work at is about the city kid on his first trip into the wilderness, who kept telling one of our adult volunteers to “listen” for a noise he was hearing. After a few minutes, the adult figured out that the teenager had never heard the sound of silence before that experience. Gordon Hempton has taken it upon himself, over the past three decades, to get to those “quiet” places in nature and capture those sounds. “Soundtracker” is a profile of his quest, taking 20 trips a year in his VW van, capturing “sound portraits” with his business partner, Fritz, who is a human head-shaped microphone that Hempton can place on top of a boom or a tripod as he walks the earth looking for unique sounds that may be disappearing from our landscape, like a breeze blowing through a field of tall grass. In one scene, Hempton parks his van in an empty field, walks out of the van to listen and see if he can find a good sound to record, and is visibly irritated by the low hum coming from a power transformer. He says that sound, coming from computer fans, light sockets and everywhere else, is “the American mantra.” He might have a point.
It pretty much makes my month when an outdoors movie comes across my desk, and after watching it, I get to give it my “not ski/climbing porn” stamp. In the first few minutes of “A Life Ascending,” you see Ruedi Beglinger, owner of Revelstoke, British Columbia, hut-skiing company Selkirk Mountain Experience, anchor a rope to a snowblower on one side of the hut so he can rappel down the other side and shovel feet of snow off the roof. That’s when I realized that this would be a movie more about a life than about relentless pursuit of the gnar. Beglinger, a ski mountaineering guide, was leading a group of 20 skiers in 2003 when an avalanche ripped loose and
killed seven of the skiers. “A Life Ascending” documents Beglinger’s life as a guide, from snow science, to running a business, to raising his two daughters in a helicopter- access-only hut in the backcountry of the Selkirks. And, of course, the ever-present chance that he might die at work, or have a client die on a trip — and how he dealt with the avalanche deaths in 2003, which, coupled with another avalanche less that 20 miles away that killed seven more people 12 days later, drew negative media atten- tion. Director/producer Stephen Grynberg’s first feature-length documentary is a good one, just in time for ski season. www.alife- ascending.com
Chuck Fryberger has an expensive camera and shot “Core” in 35mm Ultra High-Definition, making it the first climbing movie that made me wish I had a bigger TV. This is a solid film, following some of the world’s strongest climbers as they battle routes that are at their limits. Fryberger, as a filmmaker, knows what he’s doing — when to play high-energy music as his tracking shot follows a car ripping down a dirt road in South Africa on the way to Rocklands, when to turn off the music so we can listen to a climber nervously breathe and scrape his or her way up a boulder problem, and how to find the right angles. Two highlights in this film, for me: A segment on BJ Tilden, who is not a sponsored climber, but a full-time carpenter in Wyoming, who climbs as hard as a sponsored climber; and when Hueco Tanks legend Rick Oliver shares this bit of philosophy: “There’s a leisure class at both ends of the socioeconomic spectrum. You can have a lot of money and no time, or a little money and a lot of time. And it’s very, very fun to be on either end of it.” Also great: The film can be e-mailed to you, for $19.95, if you don’t want to spend the $29.95 for the DVD or $39.95 for the Blu-Ray.