The 2016 Vancouver International Mountain Film Festival will be kicking off their Fall Series next week, running November 22nd to the 25th, 2016. Added late to the program was a film titled ‘Before it Falls’ featuring the Ewbank Route on the Totem Pole in Tasmania. We thought it would be cool to catch up with the film makers to find out how they brought their vision to reality. The film, created by Simon Bischoff and Mathew Farrell will be featured on the Rock Climbing Night, Friday, November 25th at Centennial Theatre in North Vancouver.
(The following questions were answered by Simon Bischoff (but Matt approved all answers!)
First off, thanks for taking the time to chat with us. Your film ‘Before it Falls’ was recently added to the VIMFF Fall Series and we are very excited. Can you tell us a bit about the film?
It’s a short film about a little known Australian climber absolutely smashing it out of the park in terms of being a total bad ass and climbing a route with a massive reputation from the ground (water) up. This is by far the most pure way of approaching a rock climb and demonstrates a true mastery of climbing. The film is set amongst the foreboding landscape of Tasmania’s South East coast where the climb takes place on an iconic piece of rock known as the Totem pole. It’s a truly awe inspiring place.
A film of any size takes a lot of planning. Can you tell us a bit about the process, from the inception of the idea to to the finished product?
Well, I’d say that the film probably came around through my own personal attempts to climb the Ewbank route a few years ago. I became fascinated with it after climbing the regular route on the totem pole. I knew that Ewbanks route had been free climbed a number of years earlier but its reputation for being dangerous and difficult deterred any decent attempts at making a second free ascent. I spent a number of days trying to free the route before I became injured and it fell out of my reach. It was during this time that I realized that it would be a spectacular route to film, as a fall on the final moves of the crux would result in an absolute screamer down the side of the totem pole. Things like that look sweet in slow-motion.
I started talking about the route to people and trying to get them on it just so I could film the climb. Eventually, we ended up getting this grant (Matt did all the paperwork!) from a screen organization in Tasmania called Wide Angle. A climb of this severity required climbers of the highest caliber so we flew a couple of Australia’s best climbers down from the Blue Mountains, Lee Cossey and Andrea Hah.
When Lee first attempted the route ground up and fell off, I had the settings wrong on my camera and I think Matt was changing a battery, so amateur. So we only managed to capture in really low quality image on a back up camera. Lee then climbed the route next shot and didn’t fall off so we didn’t get the falling footage I originally hoped for. The fact that he didn’t pre-inspect the route before and just launched up it two times in a row was seriously impressive, especially when you have been on the route and know how demanding it really is. It was a pleasure to witness.
The drone shots in this film really capture the position of the Totem Pole unlike any other film. Can you tell us about your decision to use the drone only for stock footage and not to shoot the climbing?
It was basically a technical issue in the end. We acquired the aerial footage from a third party because we didn’t have the correct licenses to film with drones in the area. I would have absolutely loved to include aerial footage of the ascent. The reality is that even if we had the correct licensing when we were filming the ascent we probably wouldn’t have been able to use the drone because the conditions were so bad. I know of more than one drone that lies under the sea at the base of the totem pole.
There is a real sense of historic value in this video, especially with the interviews featuring Simon Mentz and Sonnie Trotter. What made you decide to include these two figures?
I have always loved climbing history and while I think while Lee’s ascent was a huge progression for the route but you must always remember those that paved the way in the first place. Who better to tell the story of the totem pole that a couple of people who have made their own personal mark on its history. Initially, the film was going to be predominantly about the history of the Totem pole and feature a lot more characters but due to time and funding constraints we had to focus on a single part of a long history.
Lee Cossey is an absolute crusher. What was it like to work with such easy talent?
Both Lee and Andrea Hah (who belayed lee and then repeated the route herself) were so easy to work with. We couldn’t have got any luckier. I believe Lee has done some modelling back home and it helps that he has great hair as well. They were super patient and flexible with us when we were trying to organise to bring them down here. Lee was so calm about taking on the route ground up as well, i think i was more nervous than him. When he was gearing up for the climb it was more like he was putting on his shoes to get some ice cream from the shops as opposed to tackling one of the gnarliest climbs around.
You folks have been making films for a while and know how to tell a story. What do you think climbing media is missing at this point and where do you see your films going in the future?
I think climbing media needs to eat a big piece of humble pie and to get over itself and stop talking about the next hardest thing that someone did and just focus on great characters and the experiences they have when they go out and climb something beautiful. Sponsored climbers are the ones that tend to make the media the most but they also tend to be the most boring people and are forced to be politically correct so they don’t upset their sponsors. I’d like to see filmmakers making films about the underdogs, weirdos and the outcasts.
I’m currently producing another climbing film about climbing Tasmania’s Federation Peak in winter. After that I’m not sure. Making climbing films is really hard and I’m always broke so I think I might give up and get into shooting weddings.
Well, don’t give up too quick. We need you guys around! Thanks again for taking the time to answer a few of our questions. I am very sure your film will be well received!
The Film ‘Before it Falls’ will be featured at the Vancouver International Film Festival on Friday, November 25th at Centennial Theatre in North Vancouver.