In On Assigmnent: Jimmy Chin, Renan Ozturk (Mountainfilm 2009, Samsara, which won the Charlie Fowler Award) trains his lens on a man who usually stands behind a lens of his own. Climber, skier and mountaineer Jimmy Chin, a longtime guest of Mountainfilm, has spent his life behind the camera and from that viewpoint has chronicled incredible feats in some of the most breathtaking places in the world. This film follows Chin to Yosemite Valley and films him as he shoots a National Geographic story on the climbing culture in Yosemite. It’s a short portrait of a passionate athlete who has melded his loves: climbing and photography. “I think the most honest photos happen when both the subject and the photographer are just in the moment,” he says in the film, and “the rest of the world has just fallen away.”
Prompted by the death of a climbing friend, mountain guide and filmmaker Hugh Barnard sets out to discover just what it is that drives a certain type of person into the mountains. Who is it that ignores risk and responsibility for the thrill of the ascent? His exploration uncovers some surprising revelations, such as the fact that climbers—who often describe their endeavors in terms of spirituality and transcendence—rank very low in terms of religious sentiment.
Sweetgrass Productions (Mountainfilm 2010, Signatures) offers a poetic ski film set to the haunting Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes song, “Desert Song.” The film provides a glimpse into the beauty of late season skiing in Haines, Alaska, as well as the extreme turns that still can be had as evenings deepen with long spring shadows.
Heath Calhoun would never wish his experience on anyone but somehow, he considers his experience a blessing—which is not what you would expect from someone who lost both legs from a rocket attack in Iraq. The lesson Calhoun has taken from his disability is that the human body can go a lot farther than we imagine. On a Wounded Warriors-sponsored trip to Aspen, Calhoun discovered mono-skiing. Within four years, he was competing for the U.S. in the Paralympics. Along the way he learned that his spirit had gained far more than his body had lost.
Winter. Brian Ward discovers an unexpected and new-found love for water in its frozen and expanded form.
Amazing what wonders can lead from an unassuming hole in the ground: crystal spires, cathedrals of calcite, gypsum cascades. To access this magical cave, however, a certain suffering must be endured and one must overcome more than a little fear. For the cavers of Into Darkness, this means squeezing through impossibly constricted spaces, exhaling everything in their lungs to make their bodies improbably flat, feeling their heartbeats thud into intractable rock, or holding themselves up by nothing more than their armpits. The contortion and pain is worth it, though, as they emerge into a dazzling underworld chamber of secrets and experience one of our world’s few final frontiers.
Ueli Steck is a Swiss speed climber and alpinist who scales giant rock and ice faces at a rate so blurrily fast that it could be considered stupid. But the thing about Steck is he is incredibly precise and controlled. “I am like a Swiss watch, you know. Very efficient,” he says in the film. Swiss Machine chronicles Steck, a driven athlete who balances on the knife edge between safety and danger, as he speed climbs such routes as the Nose of El Capitan in Yosemite with Alex Honnold (Mountainfilm 2010, Alone on the Wall). After setting the speed record on the north face of the Eiger at 3:50 hours, he decides to break his own time and spends a year training. The film culminates with Steck’s ambitious attempts on the gorgeous, iconic peak as he sets out—with no room for mistakes—nearly running up the snow-and-ice-blanketed peak.