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By Jake Watt
17th September 2017

“What is this strange force that draws us upwards - this siren song of the summit?” asks actor Willem Dafoe’s solemn voiceover, intoning the words of ‘Mountains of the Mind’ author, Robert Macfarlane.

“Are these guys fucking insane?” I asked myself (several times) while watching the feature documentary ‘Mountain’, from Macfarlane and ‘Sherpa’ director Jennifer Peedom.

“How did they get that shot?” I gawped while watching the footage taken by Renan Ozturk, the high-altitude cinematographer who previously worked on ‘Sherpa’, using drones, Go-Pros and helicopters.

“Shit. That looks painful,” I winced as a rock climber tore his nails and scraped the skin from his fingers on a handhold, other climbers huddling in a tent that swung on a sheer rock face, waiting out a blizzard as avalanches thundered around them.

Pieced together from more than 2,000 hours of footage shot in 15 countries, ‘Mountain’ is a 70-minute tribute to the western explorers, adventurers, thrill-seekers and athletes who are willing to risk their lives climbing the world’s great heights.


Beginning with the earlier days of recreational mountain climbing, ‘Mountain’ trots out some grainy old footage of mountain climbers before barrelling into the gasp-inducing stuff.

Drawing on the archives of the Canadian production house Sherpas Cinema, the documentary features jaw-dropping shots of mountaineers, ice climbers, tightrope walking (across two peaks in Castle Valley, Utah), BASE jumpers, wingsuiters, heliskiers, snowboarders and mountain bikers. Dafoe’s voiceover asserts various meditations on life and nature which the filmmakers use to frame the footage.

“I was looking for a very particular voice to carry this film,” said Peedom on Dafoe’s casting, in a recent interview. “Given the nature of the collaboration, the voice itself needed to be an instrument in order to carry the poetry of Robert Macfarlane’s words and to hold up alongside the powerful score curated by Richard Tognetti. But it also needed to feel authentic. Willem Dafoe brought both those things to the film.”

Works by Chopin, Grieg, Vivaldi and Beethoven, as well as original music by Tognetti (the artistic director of the Australian Chamber Orchestra), are expertly paired with the footage to enhance the tension or beauty of scenes.

Pieced together from more than 2,000 hours of footage shot in 15 countries, ‘Mountain’ is a 70-minute tribute to the western explorers, adventurers, thrill-seekers and athletes who are willing to risk their lives climbing the world’s great heights.

“The original music I wrote for ‘Mountain' was composed in real collaboration with Jennifer [Peedom],” Tognetti was quoted. “She would tell me what she was trying to express and what the scene in the movie meant, and then I would try and come up with the musical equivalent. Some of the compositions are filmic and some of them are more like dreamscapes.”

The documentary also allows for moments away from the adventurers to admire the otherworldly beauty of the scenery. My favourite example was the time-lapse photography showing some snowy landscape rising and falling with the heat of the sun, an effect which made the mountain look like it was respiring like a sleeping giant.

As I walked out of my screening of ‘Mountain’, I mused: would I ever live my fullest life, here in the comforting bosom of Australia's busiest city? I could always take a trip to Yosemite and do a free-solo climb of El Capitan or spend a winter vacation going BASE jumping in the insurgent-held Borno region of Nigeria...

Then scenes from the documentary flashed through my mind: the stranded Australian climber, nauseous and whimpering, “Oh God, take me home,” and a body plummeting on a rope, only to rebound off a icy cliff-face.

Nope. I was good. Watching ‘Mountain’ was thrilling enough.

RELEASE DATE: 21/09/2017
RUN TIME: 1h 13m
CAST: Willem Dafoe
DIRECTOR: Jennifer Peedom
WRITERS: Robert Macfarlane
Jennifer Peedom
Want more? Listen to our discussion of 'Mountain' on SWITCHCast 
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