My husband put this on in the background while he worked, and I was so intrigued by its experimental nature that I ended up watching the entire film. When the credits rolled, I saw that this film was directed by a woman.
Jennifer Peedom is a BAFTA nominated filmmaker from Australia. Judging by her other films (neither of which I’ve seen but would like to), she is dedicated to making films about the outdoor community. Her other films, 2008’s Solo and 2015’s Sherpa appear to be more traditional documentaries when compared to Mountain.
This is part of my #52FilmsByWomen challenge.
My interest was initially piqued by the Netflix summary. Categorized under “cerebral” and described as a musical odyssey, I wasn’t sure what to expect from this documentary. Featuring narration from Willem Dafoe, the film features passages from the book Mountains of the Mind inter woven with other dialogue, all complimenting the beautiful cinematic images of mountains, and a mesmerizing score.
That’s it. That’s the film.
It was…like watching an hour-long segment from Fantasia, with all the highs and lows, or watching poetry. It was beautiful and breathtaking but also terrifying as Peedom’s script takes us through many different aspects of mountains–literally what they are, symbolically what they mean and have meant to humans. The footage shows us how historically, there are some humans who have sought to “conquer,” some who respect them, protect them, study them.
And as easy as it is to describe it as poetry in motion, it was also a slightly nerve-wracking experience in certain parts. Again, the story ebbs and flows, showing the dangers of mountains, the dangers people are in by engaging with them, and their timeless presence, often taken for granted in the backdrops of postcards, only catching the everyday person’s attention as a prop in a photo or a slope to ski down or a danger to be wary of via avalanche or volcanic activity.
The more Western approach focused on thrillseekers and athletes. It was an interesting juxtaposition of their relationship with the mountain versus the footage of Sherpas and others who live mountain-adjacent. We are reminded of what is apparently a universal truth: “…the most risks are taken by those who have least.”
I want to believe this was a bit therapeutic for Peedom when learning about her previous film (Sherpa), and the harrowing experience she endured as well as witnessed herself, when an avalanche killed sixteen Sherpas on Everest while the filmmakers were on location.
The film has footage sourced from several cinematographers, with about 60% of the final film being filmed by Renan Ozturk. It features mountains from all seven continents. It gets through a lot in its 74 minute run time.
Naturally, the music swells and recedes at appropriate times, adding even more to the scale of the subject matter at hand.
This isn’t a film to put on in the background (which my husband quickly realized, and joined me). It’s not a film you idly pull your phone out for. It’s a meditation that asks you to experience it. It deserves your full attention.