Last night I was lucky enough to watch the 2 hour programme for the first time, ahead of its UK tour (details below), and was bowled over. Here's a quick review hopefully without giving away too much:
To kick things off you have to sit through a few minutes of adverts, but don't try arriving late so you can miss them as you'll definitely want good seats for the rest of the show. They are actually pretty good quality adverts which means it's an easier pill to swallow, and it's clear that the money generated by these adverts has helped the guys at Reel Rock significantly raise their game to deliver a very high quality package, so bear that in mind...
First up it's the winners of the short film competition. There are two of these on the programme, both two minutes long. Both pretty amateur, but both pretty funny, if a little risqué, and both having had a lot of effort put into producing them. I won't divulge much about their content, but both are worth a watch, but not a patch on the rest of the programme. All the entries are available to watch online here: www.reelrocktour.com
The first real chapter is Obe & Ashima. This made me think. A lot. I have a five year old and a two year old. They are both exhibiting signs that they might be reasonably good climbers. As parents do we try to channel their 'talents' or do we let them develop naturally? Ashima is a 9 year old Japanese American with devoted parents who don't climb. Three years ago she started climbing and has developed astoundingly quickly thanks in large part to her personal coach Obe Carrion. You may remember Obe from the late 90s. He was at the leading edge of the bouldering revolution, inspiring the likes of Chris Sharma with his strength and passion (his antics on topping out on a boulder problem on some archive footage are quite impressive!). The film is a well crafted portrait of the pair, with occasional references to the parents. I found myself genuinely interested in Obe and his story which is saying something given the number of climbers' biographies and profiles I've read over the years. There's plenty of action, a few tears (and not just from 9 year old Ashima, who despite her iron mentality does have the odd wobble) and a few really inspiring, uplifting moments. It's comparable to 'The Hardest Moves' – a chapter on last year's Reel Rock Tour which was also produced by the Lowell brothers Josh and Brett.
With barely time for a wee (save yourself for the intermission as the producers have, rather insightfully, kept the credits at the end of each chapter to a minimum to keep the continuity going) we're into the next chapter: Ice Revolution. Featuring Canadian ice god Will Gadd and our very own 'Mr Motivator' Tim Emmett it's a tour de force in enthusiastic personalities waxing lyrical about their latest find – a massive cave in British Columbia which has a free hanging waterfall cascading over its lip with enough spray swirling around to line the overhanging walls behind the falls with more icicles than you can possibly imagine. Tim and Will are akin to a cross between children in a sweet shop and bulls in a china shop as they enthusiastically clear the hanging daggers which are too unstable to climb on, before embarking on what they say is without doubt the best ice climbing in the world. You have to hand it to these two; every year or two they come back with something even more impressive than their previous exploits. It's a privilege that we can share the experience with them.
Cold is a short film by Corey Richards who rather impressively took his cameras with him to the summit of Gasherbrum II last winter along with Simone Moro and Denis Urubko. It was impressive because they became the first people to summit an 8,000m peak in winter! It's narrated by Corey who clearly doesn't share the same seemingly care-free attitude to the elements and the suffering, and even goes so far as to sound scared. Every year I watch a lot of adventure films and am often impressed by how basically hard-core some people are and this film is one of those. To see them on the summit, barely able to sit up and raise their heads is a pretty sobering insight into the world they live in. Seeing the Karakoram with its winter snows is something else, and as I've already said, the fact that the three of them were obviously unsupported and filmed the thing themselves is really quite staggering.
The last chapter before the break is Project Dawn Wall. Initially I was a little put off by the fact that it was Tommy Caldwell, in Yosemite, again. However Tommy is maturing well, and the filmmakers have focused superbly (especially given the terrain they are working in) on the appallingly difficult-looking climbing that he and partner Kevin Jorgenson are attempting. Dawn Wall is an aid route on El Cap and has never been freed. Tommy and Kevin have dedicated an awful lot of time and effort to be able to do so, but are as yet, unsuccessful. Gone are the talking heads of other Yosemite gurus declaring this the hardest climb of all time, and Tommy and Kevin the raddest dudes for attempting it. This film is all about their big push in 2010, often climbing at night to make the most of cooler conditions, falling, failing, peeing, sometime succeeding and generally being quite, quite obsessed.
After the break we kick off with a couple more adverts and then we're straight into Race For The Nose. You could be forgiven for thinking that two chapters on El Cap is excessive, but they are like chalk and cheese. If you think that speed climbing is not real climbing ask yourself this: is it really any more removed from the real world than any other strand of our rich and varied world of climbing? You should find that the answer is no. The Nose on El Cap is without doubt the most famous route in the world. Hans Florine is a dedicated man. Dedicated to making sure that he holds the record for climbing it quickest. Over the years others have tried and succeeded in breaking the record, only for Hans to snatch it back soon after. This film focuses on last year's attempt by Dean Potter and Sean Leary. If you've watched many climbing films you will know that Dean is a gifted climber, and actually talks a reasonable amount of sense amidst his philosophical ramblings. He claims not to be in the least bit competitive, but then admits that there is something about this 'prize' in climbing, however bizarre it may look, that draws him in. The filming is, as you would expect, top notch. At one point we see a camera close up in Dean's face as he is virtually crying with frustration whilst trying to un-jam a knot as precious seconds tick by. A few months ago a friend and I climber 106 HVS's on Stanage in a day. This was 1,400m of climbing and a further 1,400m of descending. It took us 15 hours. The climbing on The Nose is harder and more exposed and yet these guys are doing it in a fraction of our time. It's really quite mind-blowing.
Last of all is Slack Life. Andy Lewis is a bit like an modern day American equivalent of Johnny Dawes – supremely talented and devoid of fear. Only he doesn't concentrate his efforts on the rock. Instead he spends his time slacklining – basically a sport that evolved from within climbing (you've guessed it, from Camp 4 in Yosemite!). With a nonchalant disregard for all things solid, Andy has taken the world of slacklining, combined it with some care-free BASE jumping, and quite literally pushed the limits and survived to tell the tale. Although some of his slacklining and solo-highlining stunts are jaw dropping , it's his close calls whilst BASE jumping that are disturbingly the most watchable bits of the film. On one jump he quite literally kicks himself off a cliff face whilst falling as he is getting too close! In another he bungles a landing having tangled himself in his chute and delaying its deployment, only to shout to his onlookers 'I'm Good!'. How he was good is a mystery. The film finishes up in a desert setting as dozens of like-minded slackliners and BASE jumpers get together for an annual gathering that comes across as almost tribal. Anthropologists have often used the tribe analogy to describe sports, but rarely have I seen it more applicable than here.
There – 95 minutes and an intermission well spent, especially on a big screen with a big crowd.
In summary, previous Reel Rock programmes have tended to be more American, with a whole lot of hollering and whooping. Taking a look at the calendar it's obvious that they are branching out further into the rest of the world and have created a set of inspiring films of climbers at the top of their game, that will appeal to a wider range of audiences.
International show details can be found here: www.reelrocktour.com
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