Director: Jennifer Peedom
Screenwriters: Robert Macfarlane
Willem Dafoe (narrator)
Runtime: 74 mins.
Australian release date: 21 September 2017
Previewed at: Sydney Film Festival, State Theatre, Sydney, on 17 June 2017.
In 2015, Jennifer Peedom’s documentary, Sherpa, took her audience on a heart-stopping journey up Mount Everest. The film became much more than a portrayal of the strength of will required to climb mountains because it also captured a growing confrontation between Everest tour operators and the Nepalese Sherpas who act as porters for their clients. During the shoot, as the Sherpas fought for fair pay and safety rights, a massive avalanche brought these issues into the open. Now, two years later, Peedom has once again transported her audience to parts of the world that most will only ever experience from the safety of a cinema seat, with Mountain. This is the third film the director has made on this lofty theme, the first being her 2008 documentary Miracle on Everest. One suspects it won’t be the last, such is her apparent fascination with these frozen peaks.
Intriguingly, the genesis for the documentary came from The Australian Chamber Orchestra’s artistic director, Richard Tognetti. He had been interested in the way that music and images can augment each other for some years, having previously composed music for footage of the sea and surfing in a project called The Reef. When he learnt of Peedom’s abilities in the documentary field, he approached her to collaborate with him on this unique meld of mountains and music. This spectacular documentary is the result. Beautifully narrated by Willem Dafoe, with soaring words by Robert Macfarlane, the British conservationist and author of Mountains of the Mind, it explores the fascination humans have for climbing the highest peaks in the world and putting themselves in danger for the sake of achieving an almost unattainable desire. Mountain doesn’t only cover mountain climbers, however; it also includes breath-taking footage of rock climbers, snowboarders, skiers, and wing-suit flyers. It shows how there are those who possess an extraordinarily adventurous spirit that willingly puts them in the face of Death while, paradoxically, making them feel alive by defying the odds.
Filmed around the world in Antarctica, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Bolivia, Canada, Chile, France, Greenland, Iceland, India, Italy, Japan, Nepal, New Zealand, Pakistan, PNG, Scotland, South Africa, Switzerland, Tibet and the USA, many of the heart-stopping scenes recorded in the doco were shot by the acclaimed cinematographer Renan Ozturk. Where Ozturk himself couldn’t go, he had the contacts necessary to access the required scenes from existing footage libraries. Peedom informed him that his brief was to find only the best “…material, firstly, that was absolutely extraordinary and, secondly, that was imbued with the magic, the spiritualism and the majesty of mountains.” The resulting collaboration between director, writer, composer and cinematographer is simply stunning and includes works by Beethoven, Grieg, Arvo Pärt, Peter Sculthorpe, Vivaldi and a new composition by Tognetti. The components have combined perfectly to bring this spectacular vision to the screen.
There are many adjectives one could use to describe this incredible cinematic experience but, regardless of superlatives, it has to be one of the most unique journeys an audience can take. You leave the cinema feeling exhilarated from an adrenaline rush that comes even though you haven’t had to move a muscle. Mountain makes you realise how incredibly brave (or reckless?) some adventurers are. One wonders what’s next on the cards for this formidable team as the question has to be asked - can Peedom, Macfarlane, Tognetti and Ozturk go any higher?