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Climbing’s biggest film festival goes all out for 2016
By Rebekah Epstein
Reel Rock, the film tour infamous for hosting the rock climbing community’s social event of the year — with its evening of short film screenings and competitive activities, is expanding the scope of its signature event this year in five pilot cities. For 2016, Denver, San Francisco, New York, Seattle and Washington DC will play host to what REEL ROCK is calling FESTs, a weekend long series of wild events, sport education and good times.
In addition to the normal REEL ROCK film screenings, FESTs will feature a speaker series with live presentations from iconic legends from the rock climbing world, climbing competitions, athlete clinics run by pros, a youth matinee profiling top REEL ROCK films from the past decade, a stewardship event hosted by Access Fund and plenty of parties (and apparently a beer garden), making it easy to meet-up with fellow outdoor enthusiasts. There’ll also be live music, food trucks and gear giveaways from tour sponsors. And all this is spread out over the entire weekend, at multiple sites throughout the host city, making this blown-out version of REEL ROCK a true festival celebration of the sport.
REEL ROCK 11’s film line-up will feature the best climbing and adventure films of the year, produced by the leading outdoor film companies, Sender Films and Big UP Productions. Film screenings at FEST cities will be attended by the stars of the films and the filmmakers themselves. Here’s what’s on tap:
Meet the new faces of climbing: 15-year-old Ashima Shiraishi and 16-year-old Kai Lightner are the leaders of the next generation, already taking the sport to the next level. A trip to Norway puts their skills to the test, and Ashima attempts to make history on a V15 boulder in Japan.
Boys in the Bugs
Will Stanhope and Matt Segal are elite-level crack climbers and world-class goofballs. Laugh along as they go for broke on an epic four-year battle to climb a forbidding 5.14 finger crack high in the Canadian alpine wilderness of the Bugaboos.
Follow rising talent Brette Harrington on a global journey from her hometown granite in Squamish to the big wall proving ground of Yosemite’s El Capitan and onto a landmark free solo in Patagonia.
Lone wolf Mike Libecki travels to the most remote corners of the globe to find unclimbed walls and establish first ascents. When Mike becomes a father, he has a new challenge: to reconcile his life of adventure with the demands of parenthood, but he may also gain a new partner for his expeditions.
Pack your penny whistle and batten down the hatches for a madcap sailing adventure in the Arctic Circle aboard the good ship Dodo’s Delight. Join Sean Villanueva O’Driscoll, Ben Ditto, and brothers Nico and Olivier Favresse for a rollicking musical journey across open seas and up unclimbed big walls.
Q&A with Peter Mortimer
ASJ This is the 11th year of the Reel Rock climbing film tour. What movies are you guys featuring this year? Which film will connect most with a California audience?
PM We’ve got five short films this year, each of which I’m really excited about. The films include a hilarious and wild expedition (Dodo’s Delight), journeys with up and coming climbers (Young Guns, and Brette), a mutli-year epic battle for a first ascent (Boys in the Bugs) and a look at an enigmatic climber and his unorthodox life (Rad Dad).
There’s lots of humor as always, some heartbreak and drama, unexpected turns and of course the best climbing action you will find anywhere. We build the program so it plays well across the world, so I expect all the films will connect with California audiences, but for the local flavor I would single out Brette, since its star Brette Harrington is a young woman from Tahoe who is traveling the world, climbing big routes, turning heads and shaping up to be one of the best all around climbers out there. One of her featured climbs is an attempt on The Free Muir, a 3,000-foot difficult crack on Yosemite’s El Capitan. It’s good value.
ASJ Because it was so successful, Valley Uprising brought the story of Yosemite climbing to a much larger audience. Can you describe some of the challenges of making the film? When did you and Sender Films first start working on it?
PM The biggest challenge in making Valley Uprising was figuring out which stories and characters to focus on (and which to, painfully, leave out), and how to shape the overall arc of the film. We intentionally made a story that spans generations and has various people share top billing, so that makes for so many options of where you can go with the film. That’s why it took us seven years in post-production to find our thread through this amazing 50-year history.
ASJ How has the success of Valley Uprising changed your career? Are you now looking at major Hollywood type projects?
PM After Valley Uprising, I think people have seen that we can put together a complex film with lots of moving parts and that we have our own voice and style. So Valley has lead us to some great opportunities and bigger projects, but we’re certainly still out on the fringe of Hollywood – probably where we belong. Some of the cooler opportunities that have come from Valley Uprising are working with Google on creative out-of-the-box projects and partnering with Red Bull Media House on some exciting feature film projects.
ASJ You are also working on the movie about Tommy Caldwell and the Dawn Wall. What is it about Tommy’s story and the Dawn Wall project that people find so inspiring?
PM Tommy’s life story is incredible, he is a unicorn: he was captured by terrorists, chopped his finger off, went through a rough divorce and with each knock he learned and came out stronger. All of his experiences lead him to his obsession with the the Dawn Wall, and he dedicated the best years of his career to the climb while everyone had given up on him. He really could have come out empty handed after a decade of commitment. When Kevin Jorgeson joined the climb it took on a whole other life, where these two lovable but odd partners toiled for years together. That they stuck it out and made the final push is unbelievable, and that the climb became a real-time global media phenomenon adds this whole other element to the story. The Dawn Wall saga is this larger than life story, a stranger-than-fiction, inspirational journey that you wouldn’t believe is real, had we – my partner Josh Lowell and his brother Brett – not captured the whole thing on camera, filming with Tommy for years. It’s going to be our most exciting film yet.
ASJ What does a typical workday look like for Peter Mortimer these days? Are you behind the camera a lot or coordinating projects?
PM The last few months I’ve been in full creative post-production mode on the REEL ROCK films and the Dawn Wall, working with my partners and with various editors. In another month or two I will emerge from the dark, go to some screening events, talk to people again, go out on some shoots and start thinking about our next round of projects. I like mixing it up for sure.