Not every journey ends in an exclamation point. When Matt Segal, Eric Decaria and John Dickey went to Kyrgyzstan to climb its massive, granite walls, they didn’t go to set up a new route or pioneer a new area. But they took video cameras anyway, and filmed what they did do.
When they came home, they handed the footage over to Jim Aikman, who has worked with Sender Films and Big Up Productions, and was an editor on The Sharp End and the TV series First Ascent.
“When they got back they weren’t really sure what they had,” Aikman says. “It turned out there was this really rich story between these characters.”
In post production, Aikman threaded together a story that showed how a trip that sent them to an isolated area of the world to climb alone could challenge and change a person.
For Dickey, in particular, the trip was a return to the country he had visited in 2000 with climbers Beth Rodden and Tommy Caldwell. That expedition’s members were kidnapped by militants and held for six days before escaping. For Segal and Decaria, it was their first big trip since the death of their friends, Micah Dash and Johnny Copp, during an expedition on the same continent.
“Three elite professional climbers go on a trip to Kyrgyzstan to kind of explore the highly acclaimed granite big walls over there. That’s kind of the superficial story,” Aikman says. “But really it’s about each of the three characters experiencing their own personal catharsis on the trip. It’s about these three friends letting go of certain demons and facing certain demons.”
The film, The Kyrgyzstan Project, begins with character development, moves through stunning footage of climbing in walls that seem to offer similarly towering stretches to Yosemite’s points of pride, and finishes with the three on a triumphant return-home climb in the Flatirons in their back yard.
The mountains of Kyrgyzstan | Photo by John Dickey
Aikman completed additional shoots and interviews in Boulder to round the story out.
“The main challenge was just trying to encapsulate all these different story elements in a seamless way that made it all three of their stories instead of just one of them,” he says.
The end result is a celebration of climbing culture and the restorative properties of spending time on the rock.
“When you’re pushing yourself that hard and you’re so far away from your comforts and distractions it really kind of strips you down to your essence and it allows you to confront the things you are…” Aikman says. “Any time you remove yourself that far away from the familiar, it allows you to gain so much more perspective on it and maybe clarity ... Travel in general, a big part of it is just letting go. … I think climbing in general and especially traveling around the world and disconnecting yourself from home in order to climb, you’re really throwing yourself at the whim of nature and fate and whatever else to take care of you and you have to fight really hard to get yourself up and down and back safely.”
The Kyrgyzstan Project will screen at the Adventure Film Festival Oct. 5.
If you’ve wanted to spend a week contemplating what it means to go on an adventure, this is the weekend to do it. The homegrown Adventure Film Festival, Oct. 4-6, will be showcasing independent films on everything from climbing adventures to activism.
The series of short films explores what makes for an adventure and how to employ the powers of storytelling to inspire journeys. Ryan Van Duzer’s Mama Picchu tells the story of a woman setting out on her first adventure in 30 years: the summit of Machu Picchu. The Mother explores the answers to the question, “Do our mothers still have dreams, hopes and journeys to make?” In Out Living It, Michael Brown of Boulder-based Serac Films and maker of High Ground floats the Colorado River with a group of young cancer survivors. Lynn Hill schools a couple of bouldering wunderkinds, Anna Stohr and Juliane Wurm, in crack climbing in Outside the Box. The Nomad catches glimpses of kayaking wanderer Erik Boomer. Wild Love films get personal with Sara Close and Timmy O’Neill on what it means to be head over heels, whether with a person or with life itself. The options are plentiful.
Those interested to test their own adventure story telling skills can check out the Outside Adventure Film School and the Adventure Photography Workshop.
Visit Adventurefilm.org for more information.