by director Jennifer Peedom
It was over three years ago that I received a phone call from the Australian Chamber Orchestra. Was I interested in meeting with them to discuss a cinema-concert collaboration?
I tried not to sound too excited, but the answer was an immediate ‘yes.’ With a reputation for being one of the greatest chamber orchestras in the world, and known for their interesting creative collaborations, this struck me as a unique opportunity. They had previously made a wonderful surf film called The Reef, and now, artistic director Richard Tognetti, a mad surfer and skier was keen to explore mountains.
I was just about to leave for Mount Everest to film my 2015 documentary, Sherpa, so it would need to wait. Lucky for me, it was here that I was to work with climber and cinematographer Renan Ozturk for the first time. Renan brought so much more than his incredible eye to that project, and we discussed this project at length while sitting at Everest Base Camp, and before the end of the expedition, we agreed to collaborate on this new venture too.
Early in my career as a filmmaker, I spent several seasons as a climbing camera operator in the New Zealand Southern Alps and the Himalayas, including two Everest expeditions. I was fascinated by what compelled people to risk their lives in the mountains, yet I also understood the allure. I had experienced the freedom of the hills, and for a time, I was hooked.
I consumed many climbing books during my days in the mountains, but there was one standout: Robert Macfarlane’s Mountains of the Mind. It charts the history of our modern fascination with Mountains. I reached out to Robert, and visited him in England, while travelling the festival circuit with Sherpa. He agreed to come on board as the writer. Somehow we would make it work using Skype and Vimeo from the edit in Sydney to his base at Cambridge University, England.
From the start, we knew that the film had to work as a live concert as well as a stand-alone movie. The rules of engagement were established: no editing the great composers! Pieces had to play in their entirety. A live orchestra can’t ‘fade out’ the Beethoven! Richard would also compose to picture about half the score. He brought his musical talents to the table, but also concepts that he wanted to explore. He was particularly fascinated by climbers like Alex Honnold, the great American free-climber, and wanted to know what made them tick.
And so began a truly collaborative project. In the final product, I think you can feel the nature of that collaboration, each artist playing their part. It was the great joy of making this film and I hope you enjoy the experience!