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|September 3 - 9, 2009
Rock and a hard place
The Reel Rock Film Tour climbs to the top
by Jim Lillie
Peter Mortimer and Nick Rosen readily acknowledge that they could do little else this past June but grieve the loss of co-workers and close friends Jonny Copp, Micah Dash and Wade Johnson, all of whom died in an avalanche in China while working on an assignment for Sender Films, the company that Boulder native Mortimer founded a decade ago.
At the same time, though, both men knew that they’d need to get back to work on First Ascent, a six-part television series based on Sender’s feature film of the same name that will be airing on National Geographic International television channels next January (an American TV debut is in the works, though not as yet secured).
Copp, Dash and Johnson would have expected nothing less than a picture-perfect finished product. Packing it in simply wasn’t an option.
Recently, Mortimer and Rosen sat down with Boulder Weekly to talk about their upcoming TV series, their fallen friends and the Reel Rock Film Tour, where two episodes of the National Geographic series will be screened, along with a project from another film house with Boulder connections, Big Up Productions.
Boulder Weekly: Which comes first in your work — the documentary or the drama?
Nick Rosen: Our goal always has been to reach out to make films about climbing that your mom would love. Every one of these first ascents has this great story behind it. And a character who’s totally obsessed with a goal and doing everything to achieve that goal, up to putting their life on the line. And they’re doing something that hasn’t been done before, and it’s dangerous, and you just don’t know what’s going to happen.
Pete Mortimer: Climbing inherently lends itself to stories. There’s this obvious hook of, “Can you get to the top? Can you fulfill your dreams through this action?”
NR: It’s a compelling aspect of the story that people are doing these things that aren’t just you sitting on your couch in safety.
PM: And they’re not just these athletic achievements, like Kobe Bryant doing a slam dunk.
NR: The essence of adventure is that there’s an element of danger to it.
BW: How do you factor in the unexpected?
PM: In our film, First Ascent, that the [National Geographic] series is based on, we followed the guy for two years and he never did this climb, and the film ends with this failure. Luckily he had this insane religious epiphany, quit climbing and joined a monastery, so we had a great ending for the film. But it was not what we had been planning at all.
BW: Which episodes of the National Geographic series will people see at the Reel Rock Festival?
NR: One is this neat story about these three guys, one of them whose fiancée was killed tragically a few years ago in a car accident.
And literally a few days before she died, they were both top alpinists and they had this conversation about if anything ever happened to them… and she said, “I want my ashes to be scattered in Patagonia.” He was devastated by her loss and it’s only now, a couple of years later, that he’s been able to face this promise that he made to her just days before she died.
The other episode is this guy, Alex Honnold, the best free solo climber in the world, who’s the first one to ever do these big routes without a rope.
BW: Do you want to say anything about what happened in China?
NR: In the immediate aftermath, I was ready to pack it up and go back to New York City and not do films about climbing and adventure anymore. But then you think: 1) what they would want us to do, and 2) what this is all really about?
PM: And you want to do even better. The National Geographic people were following the whole story as it was unfolding, and they became really inspired by getting to know about what these guys were like. And it was the executive there who said, “If you guys are in an emotional place where you can do it, we should try and do an episode.” We went around to their families and girlfriends and best friends from growing up, and every single person said, “Do it, and do it right.”
NR: It’s a real community here. And it pulled together. We started a search-and-rescue effort, and within five minutes, several of the top climbers in the world were ready to go to China. Six of us went over to bring back their remains. Coming back, it really jelled for me what a great community we have here. And how much a part of it we feel.
On the Bill:
The Reel Rock Film Tour starts at 7 p.m on Thursday, Sept. 10, at the Boulder Theater, 2032 14th St., Boulder, 303-786-7030. Tickets are $15 in advance and $17 the day of show. www.reelrocktour.com.
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