Only Douglas Tompkins has reached the summit of Mt. Corcovado. He did it over 40 years ago. In the film “180° South,” a team of climbers sets out for that same top of the world.
Timmy O’Neill leads the team.He’s the one with the appropriate climbing resume. Jeff Johnson, the star of the film, has climbed serious stuff but never through ice and snow. Makohe, a native of the South Seas’ Easter Island, has never mountain climbed. She seems athletic and soulful enough to rise to the occasion. Yvon Chouinard was one of the first to climb El Capitan in Yosemite.That ascent, more than 40 years ago, took 10 days. Yvon is 70 years old.
Mt. Corcovado rises 7500 feet, in sight of the ocean, in the wilds of Patagonia.This southernmost region of Chile is the namesake of an outdoor gear and clothing company.Yvon Chouinard and Doug Tompkins built Patagonia into a huge success. Large chunks of their fortune nurtures one of the biggest land trusts in the world. “Conservacion Patagonica” covers about 2 million acres. Among other things, the trust helps to staveconstruction of several hydro-electric dams and related development.
Wait. Wait. Was that 7500 feet?What’s the big deal about a 7500-foot mountain?Well, while spending days carrying all their own stuff and slogging through jungle brush just to reach base camp, Yvon waxed philosophical, as he often does: “This is what makes the climb … this crap.”He said that taking a helicopter is cheating.Furthermore, the safe climbing season had passed.Instead of manageable snow and ice, they find, as Timmy O’Neill discovers, “the worst unconsolidated rock” he’d ever considered risking.
As Johnson says, he’s “drawn to open country, where everything becomes clear, where the world makes the most sense. When I put myself out there, I always return with something new.” To reach this opportunity, Johnson worked as a crew member sailing for four months on the high seas. A month-long pit stop included some Easter Island surfing and being enchanted by a woman (Makohe).The film “180° South” hums engagingly in perfect pitch.
The legacy of the Wild & Scenic Film Festival, now in its 9th year, includes two traditions. One involves films that bring to life outdoor adventure and extreme sporting endeavors.The other involves films that raise awareness and inspire action about environmental issues.This film may be the ideal blend of these two traditions, which at the same time works as a richly satisfying “road” picture. It’s the kind you might go to just because you want to have a good time at the movies.
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Q and A with “180° South” Director Chris Malloy
Chuck Jaffee: "Conquerors of the Useless" is the film's subtitle. What would you say this means, especially juxtaposing it with the environmental activism that's so much a part of the film and the sensibilities of Yvon Chouinard and Doug Tompkins?
Chris Malloy: Yvon and Doug cited it several times during our climbs. I loved it because it was grounding for us young guys to hear. Big walls and big waves are so important to some of us, but that phrase reminds us there is something bigger than us and our wanderlust.
CJ: With corporate exploitations thriving around the world and our comfort-driven complicity in the short term benefits that big business provides, what do you make of Chouinard's comment that "most of the damage caused by humans is caused unintentionally"?
CM: I feel he was saying that most people have chosen to live a life so disconnected from nature that they don’t understand the impact they are having on natural resources. I chose to use that in the film so that it might inspire people to live a more examined life in terms of their consumption habits.
CJ: What did you like most about making a film in such beautiful and adventurous settings?
CM: I really felt we were in a place that is changing so rapidly. The sense of urgency
made me feel lucky every time I got up in the morning. Tragically, [it’s] in the cross hairs of some big hungry vultures.
CJ: Comment as a filmmaker and storyteller about a boat mast breaking off on the high seas and the daunting challenge of reaching and climbing Corcovado.
CM: The mast breaking was a big blessing from a story point of view. Once we knew no one had died in the accident, I was secretly reveling in what it would do for the viewers. As for Corcovado, it was heart breaking at the time.I’d planned and scouted for four years and it was an easy climb if there had been ice on it like there usually is. In the end it all worked out. I guess it always does.