Extreme adventure sport films at Wild & Scenic fest
December 20, 2017
(Editor's Note: This is the first of a four-week series of reviews leading up to the 16th Wild & Scenic Film Festival on Jan. 11-15, 2018.)
CHARGED: The Eduardo Garcia Story
The documentary "CHARGED" starts by recreating getting electrocuted and somehow hiking to find help. Subtitled "The Eduardo Garcia Story," the film includes footage that his friend Jennifer Jane shot during his 50 days in the hospital. It gave them something to do while he was dealing with things like having a big chunk of his chest removed and having his left hand amputated.
Jennifer stopped being his girlfriend before the accident. The film explains why. Jennifer's devotion as a friend deepens the satisfaction of this story.
Can Eduardo be a professional chef and an avid outdoorsman as he was before the accident? Such challenges accompany his journey to becoming a better person. You'd expect this to be a regular commercial film, "based on a true story" style. How great it is to see the actual remarkable person on screen.
You like recovery stories, stories about disabled people who aren't? This one shines as an example. His gumption as an athlete offers a fresh angle to the adventure side of the Wild & Scenic Film Festival. How about all the popular TV chef shows? This film touches that realm through a unique filter.
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Director Phil Baribeau won the "Most Inspiring Adventure" award two years ago at the Wild & Scenic. "Unbranded" (about cowboys and wild horses on a 3000-mile trek) was his first feature length documentary. Baribeau has tapped a most inspiring chord again.
The following are excerpts from a conversation with the director, Phillip Baribeau:
Chuck Jaffee: How do you view this story?
Phillip Baribeau: It's a traditional survival story, but it's a different kind of a love story. Eduardo and Jen were only still together as friends. It's a celebration of a friendship.
CJ: What was the biggest challenge making the film?
PB: Diving into someone's personal life: me being a fly on the wall with them being vulnerable, with revealing things they might not want to reveal. It takes time and trust. When he went back to see the doctors who saved him, they said that they need [success stories like Eduardo's]. That's when Ed knew that telling his story would help others.
CJ: What about challenges editing?
PB: Tony Hale, the editor, was willing to come from Brooklyn to Bozeman to work side by side on 400 hours of film. There were so many story lines. How to weave them together? If it didn't fit Eduardo's journey and transformation, we cut it. We got down to a four-hour cut, then three. [finally, 87 minutes] We listened to our test audiences.
CJ: What is it about Eduardo's smile?
PB: Yes, it's infectious. The way he approaches life, with all its struggles, even leading up to his injury. It's the major reason he survived.
CJ: And what is it about Jennifer's full-on devotion?
PB: Before Eduardo's injury they were struggling but still business partners. People ask why would she come back. She says in the film, "You love who you love." Jennifer was happy with how the story was told.
Dirtbag: The Legend of Fred Beckey
If you can appreciate what a "dirtbag" is, you will likely think that "Dirtbag: The Legend of Fred Beckey" is a fantastic documentary.
No one accomplished more North American first ascents than Beckey. While a large team would spend six months climbing Everest, Beckey filled that time being the first to climb a dozen mountains or new routes up mountains.
In his late eighties, he was still re-trying climbs he'd never summited, still slept on the ground, still pestered people to climb with him. Much enfeebled in his nineties, this film includes Fred climbing a rockface about a year before he died at age 94.
People said he was the consummate dirtbag. A caption in the film defines, "committed to an extreme lifestyle to the point of abandoning employment and other societal norms." Someone said that Beckey was more single-minded than all the other single-minded climbers.
Not incidentally, Beckey authored more than a dozen (essentially non-moneymaking) books and was known as a dedicated researcher and scholar in the realm of climbing. He never went the endorsements route. He never leveraged entrepreneurial opportunity.
Watching "Dirtbag: The Legend of Fred Beckey," you'll see some of the wilderness beauty and arduous process that he lived to breathe. You may feel compelled to think he's a sad version of a man. Suit yourself, but see this film and be amazed. Fred Beckey lived a long, active life on his own terms.
Before mentioning an undercurrent that may itch when you see the documentary "Blood Road," know that it is an impressive, extreme adventure film with a different feel than most of the films in this realm.
Rebecca Rusch, champion bicyclist, mountain biked the Ho Chi Minh Trail ("Blood Road") in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. She and a champion Vietnamese bicyclist, Huyen Nguyen, buddied for 1200 miles in three weeks. They walked bikes through skinny, jungle segments. They carried bikes over obstacles, across boulder fields. They spent 9 hours kayaking their bikes through a cave.
Rebecca needed to bicycle to the place where her father crashed to his death during "The Vietnam War." Huyen lost family in "The American War."
The two women shared their considerably different yet similar enough lives. They experienced the rugged southeast Asian countryside and one poor village after the next. They witnessed so many bomb craters as well as still unexploded "ordnance" (spelled, more bombs) from a war that ended 40-plus years ago.
Any itchy feeling need not detract from a rich combination of history, travelogue, and enlightened human connection. Yes, the past is past, and healing beyond the pain of war is palpable in "Blood Road."
But besides 58,000 people who were killed far away in the Vietnam War, more than 3,000,000 people were killed at home in the American War. And however genuine and heartfelt the quest, this is an elaborately orchestrated, sponsored vacation to an invaded land.
Mothered by Mountains
Two rad women: Sareena Rai started the punk rock scene in Nepal. Pasang Lhamu Akita Sherpa climbed K2 and Mt. Everest and she's Nepal's first female mountaineering instructor. "Woman shouldn't do this; woman shouldn't do that," Pasang says in the documentary "Mothered by Mountains."
Pasang worries over her life choices. She wants to be a mother. She feels she can't be a mother, away most months of the year pursuing her calling. Pasang is an empowering example both because she does what she does and because of how she troubles over whether she should.
Sareena, a single mom of two adopted kids, says, "to be loving to your children, that's the most important, that they feel loved. Apart from that, what you wear, your pastime, what you do for a living is irrelevant." Pasang felt scared and responsible for Sareena's children as she guided her on a climb above 18,000 feet.
Other adventure documentaries showcase women people doing what men adventurers do. It's encouraging that the empowerment-by-example track in extreme adventure and sports has become increasingly more traveled by women. "Mothered by Mountains" lingers more than other adventure films in the conversation of what women-being-rad means.
As it can be with adventures, the filmmakers admit that this film didn't go as planned. Maybe there wasn't enough footage to structure and enrich the story more fully. Regardless, Sareena and Pasang communicate an effecting message. Oh, and the Himalayan mountain photography sets the stage very well.
The Curve of Time
Here's a way you can do your part to address climate change. Reduce your helicopter flights by 80 percent. This is what a couple of guys who make skiing videos reported doing in an extreme sports documentary called "The Curve of Time." Closer to something a wide swath of people might consider, they also cut airline flights for a year – from 17 down to 1.
This film does a good and a creative job of something that has been on the rise in recent years. Extreme adventure and sports films more frequently dial-in issue consciousness with the thrills and accomplishment.
In "The Curve of Time," Chris Rubens and Greg Hill used only an electric car and leg power to tackle six major volcanic peaks in the Cascade Range of the US northwest. As part of the film's gimmick, they are filming video time capsules, talking to themselves in 30 years.
Bicycling to a mountain carrying their skis, walking to a summit carrying their skis, helps us reflect on clever references to receding glaciers and snow levels.
Amidst a series of ski scenes filled with beauty and fun, they wonder what one person can do about daunting climate change. Wearing their adventurer hats, they say, "I never start off thinking I can't climb a mountain. I break it up into small steps." They figured out that they cut in half their carbon footprint without feeling they shortchanged their ski year.
Chuck Jaffee of Grass Valley likes to plug people into the spirit of independent filmmakers. Find his other articles for The Union at http://www.startlets.com.
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