Let’s start at the beginning. I’ve been anticipating this film for many years. I had the privilege of going to undergraduate university with Oakley Anderson-Moore where we worked on a few idiosyncratic student films together. When she first told me about this project, I was thrilled. The premise was super compelling and I loved the idea of these particular stories being told through her lens. When she began shooting, I was already in graduate school getting my MFA at CalArts so regret not being able to join her on the road, but ever since I’ve been eagerly and enthusiastically awaiting updates on the film’s progress.
BRAVE NEW WILD is an offbeat chronicle of America’s Golden Age of rock climbing before and after the controversial ascent of the Dawn Wall in 1970. Some forty years later, Oakley Anderson-Moore, the daughter of a pioneering climber, stumbles upon her father’s old hi8 tapes, and sets out to answer the question: why climb when there’s nothing to gain — and everything to lose? Wry humor and an eclectic original soundtrack punctuate the delinquent antics of the Vulgarians in the ‘Gunks, the larger-than-life rivalry of Yosemite’s rock gods, and the fruit tramping, freight train hopping hobodom of her dad’s climbing life, making this film quintessential viewing for those who long for adventure.
As a non-climbing aficionado, that is, I knew almost nothing about climbing and had never even had an interest in attempting it before, this film swelled up so much emotion in me. It begins with the question: why do people climb? The film answers this question via a collage of interviews, stories, cartoons, and anecdotes. There is the historical context that birthed the climbing revolution, but this film also invokes a meditation on why, as humans, do we insist on doing anything like this? That is why do we insist on considering the vastness of the world, our own insignificance in a society that moves with or without us, through the creative expression of physical acts such as climbing? What is the appeal of literally blazing your own trail up a rock-face, of adding new possibilities to what already exists? The changing textures and modes of climbing also are testament to the various manifestations of human expression and individuality. This isn’t just a story about climbing. It is such a human story. It is an artist’s story. A lot of the reverance and resonance around this film, for me, can’t easily be articulated. This is what the film does beautifully: create a ruminant collage to offer an answer that is as complex and multi-faceted as the natural monuments on which the camera settles.
Consider the quiet of morning, of night, of having left one world behind—its expectations and shoulds—for a vast and infinite landscape of imperceptible yet epic visions. Language is sometimes a shell, but how might movement and gesture and physical strength and grace also express a sort of poetry, that is, how might climbing also enact a sort of poetry of individuality, of regret, of nostalgia, of desire, of longing, of dreaming, the merging of a concrete space with the unspoken dreams of an entire generation?
After attending the Los Angeles premiere last month, I had the opportunity to ask the director Oakley Anderson-Moore some questions about Brave New World:
JL: So much of the power of the film comes from the voices themselves. We get such great and honest views from Warren Harding & Royal Robbins, really heart-breaking memories as narrated by your father Mark Moore, and a really strong and genuine presence brought in by your own voice narrating many of these events. Can you talk about the experience of interviewing these climbers? And how did you work to balance so many different stories in the final film?
OAM: I wanted to make sure the act of storytelling was the focus of the film, to do justice to these voices. And in mountain culture, or at least for dirtbag rock climbers, stories would often be told around a campfire. I tried to mimic that in look and in feeling. (We eventually gave up on having actual outside campfire interviews as the fire and mosquitoes were too hard to control; but we kept the firelight/lantern light look with the help of my DP Nick Louie’s flicker box technique.) I think sitting in the dark over a fire helps you disassociate from the present, which is something I thought was needed to conjure up memories from the past, and to travel through those memories for the viewer of the film. I didn’t want the magic to be ruined by a bright or crowded, pedestrian background. I just wanted people to be transfixed by the characters of the film, seeing them half in the light and half in shadow.
The experience of actually sitting down with the climbers I spoke to is almost surreal to look back on. I interviewed a lot more people than you see in the finished film, and spent anywhere from forty five minutes to three hours with each of them…in this dark, fire-lit room. It was very special, and to this day I feel both proud of myself for having worked up the courage to do it, but also immense gratitude for the privilege of hearing these life experiences and wisdom of genuinely rare people who had experienced unimaginable adventures.
Balancing the different stories in the film was like arranging a large rubix cube: instead of different colors we had different time periods, different geographic locations, and different characters throughout the film. Since the different story elements were so often unrelated to each other, I focused on creating thematic connections between them. I tried to make sure that each scene motivated the next thematically, or in some sort of thematic momentum so that the story went forward. There are a lot of documentaries, great documentaries, that stick to one person or one event as the focus of the film. I didn’t want to do that here. I wanted a film that was the opposite: a chorus of voices that combined into the greater meaning of why people climb. And I think that this style is more representative of reality — a million tiny details that combine into an understanding of the world around us.
JL: I love how the film also focuses in on the story of your own father, but also the story of your relationship with your father. Partly, this is a story of the director’s father and hints of how this film came to be, but also, a story a of one climber’s journey and his future relationship with his daughter. Did working on this film change your relationship with your father? How did it change the way you view your father, and perhaps, does it offer you anything about your own trajectory and how you might envision the trajectory of your own life?
OAM: I can’t exactly tell if the film changed my relationship with my father, because I can’t separate my work on the film from the fact that I have also been coming-of-age myself at the same time. Something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately is that I started on the journey to make the film at a similar age as my father started climbing. And what I’ve understood is that this is a time in your life that you have so many questions about what the hell you are doing here. Learning that my father went through those same struggles at my age is something the affects you profoundly in a bittersweet way. As for an influence on my trajectory? Learning about my father sure has encouraged me to set up my own internal metrics for success. And that being normal is for everyone else!
JL: I know you’ve been working on this film for a long time and it’s been a long journey to get here. How do you feel that the process of working on Brave New Wild is coming to a close? Are you relieved? Or might you continue to work on this or similar projects? What are you working on next?
OAM: I feel like the end process is just beginning! Since we’re just starting our theatrical run, it’s a completely new experience to actually share the film with an audience! After spending so much time working on this in complete solitude, wondering if anyone would relate to the film, or hell if anyone would ever see it, it’s a terrifying and great new chapter!
JL: You interviewed countless scholars and climbers and researched intensely for this film. What is a story or something that you learned that didn’t make it into the film that you might want to share?
OAM: Honestly, so many things! I would have liked to make an eight hour series to fit in all the different aspects of this world.
I guess one small story that could fit in a director’s cut was a story from John Gill, who is known as “the Father of Modern Bouldering.” He spent a lot of time in the Climbers Camp in the Tetons. The Climbers Camp was shut down in the late 1960s because it had gone from being a small camp where threadbare climbers were kept away from the rest of the tourists, to a place of increasingly Beat-era psychedelic drugs, parties, draft dodgers and so on. John Gill recounted one of the last times he looked out of his tent in the camp, and saw flames leaping ten to fifteen feet in the area from an oversized bonfire someone had started. That was it for the Climbers Camp!. To this day, Gill said, after returning many times, he can’t figure out where the camp used to be. The whole area has been overgrown with shrubs and green grasses. Not necessarily a bad thing!
Watch the trailer:
Some more information on the film and filmmakers:
In the early 1970s, when my father would have been about my age when I started this project, he abandoned what appeared to be a promising future to become a penniless rock climber. I grew up getting glimpses of that life; some might say I grew up in the shadow of the mountains of my father’s past, although I only interpreted that my father had a peculiar obsession with rocks. Growing up a climber’s daughter, I was always struck by the dedication to what outsiders often see as such a dangerous and pointless activity. But I understood that to my father, climbing was far more than a ‘sport’ it was a way of life, an ethos, an alternative universe that ultimately made much more sense than the one we lived in. My father had once lived there, helped create that place, and seeing his name in the back of climbing guidebooks along so many first ascents, at the age of 23, I wondered if I could somehow get there, too.
I read every book anyone had ever written on climbing, searched through old newspapers and magazines, memorized by heart the collection of Sheridan Anderson’s climbing cartoons. I traveled across the country with my small and goodnatured crew in a ’76 VW van to interview some thirty or forty strangers under the intense glow of campfire light. I interviewed scholars and relearnt American history from 1933 to 1978.
Like most people that go down the rabbit hole of history, I came out with more answers than I had bargained for. But had I found an answer to the central question, why do people climb? Climbers, my father included, were unusual and unique, motivated by different reasons; the answer was the intersection of a thousand different people, places, and events. I wanted the film to be a reflection of that, to be made up of intersections of stories that accumulate into a world of your own interpretation. I wanted the style to be true to the eclectic nature of the people in the story, to be often tongueincheek and slightly subversive. The climber’s philosophy was not about conquering stuff, making your country proud, or following the American dream. Climbing was a fierce expression of existence. I had embarked on a journey to understand my father, and therefore, the Golden Age and the world of climbing. Now I invite you to look at this world through the kaleidoscope and see if you don’t find some meaning in that distant rock formation on the horizon.
About the Filmmakers:
Oakley Anderson-Moore (Director) is from the small town of Ellensburg, Washington but spent half her childhood living in foreign countries from Brazil to the Philippines, and that mixed looking glass guides her style of storytelling. After graduating with highest distinction in Media:Film/Video and Theatre Arts at UC San Diego, Anderson-Moore worked as the L.A. street blogger for Nike’s/LinkTV’s Play City campaign, using multimedia to profile inspirational youth in Los Angeles from activists to skateboarders. She is a feature writer at Nofilmschool.com, where she has interviewed directors from Werner Herzog to Kat Candler. Director Sally Potter (The Man Who Cried) called a work-in-progess scene from Brave New Wild “a fascinating glimpse into the obsessive culture of rock climbing…” The film was one of ten accepted into the 2012 IFP Independent Documentary Lab, and marks Oakley’s feature documentary debut.
Alexander Reinhard (Producer) graduated cum laude with a BA in History and Visual Arts from the University of California, San Diego where he studied under Amy Adler, David Gutierrez, and Robert Edelman. Reinhard first entered producing through radio, where he helped create several musical programs for the San Diego radio station KSDT. During this period he also became interested in producing film and co-founded the production company Little Sure Shot Films, LLC. He has produced the award winning short documentary Wild New Brave. His first feature-length production Brave New Wild was selected for the 2012 IFP Filmmaker Lab and an official selection of the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival in 2015.