Jeff Lowe is on the climb of his life
If You Go …
What: ‘Jeff Lowe’s Metanoia’ at 5Point Film Festival
When: Saturday, April 25, 2 p.m.
Where: Carbondale Rec Center
More info: The 82-minute film is on a double-bill with climbing artist Jeremy Collins’ “Drawn.” Jeff Lowe, Connie Self and director Jim Aikman will be in attendance.
Tickets and full schedule: www.5pointfilm.org
After nine days on a solo ascent of the north face of Mount Eiger in Switzerland, Jeff Lowe was stuck in a storm, out of fuel and food on what many had already dubbed a suicide mission. Abandoning his backpack and ropes, he scrambled to the summit on a route he named Metanoia, after the life-changing spiritual experience he had there.
This is only the beginning of the story in “Jeff Lowe’s Metanoia,” which screens Saturday at the 5Point Film Festival in Carbondale. The film tracks his groundbreaking mountaineering career, including the never-duplicated 1991 Eiger summit among his hundreds of first ascents, his tumultuous personal life and the most challenging climb of his life — an ongoing battle against an ALS-like motor-neuron disease.
He began to feel symptoms in 2000. As the malady took hold, he lost the ability to climb, then to walk. He currently speaks by typing on an iPad.
A lifetime spent clawing up icy mountainsides and doing the impossible, perhaps, prepared Lowe for this final chapter.
“You do the best with what you have from where you are right now,” said his wife and “Metanoia” producer Connie Self. “That’s what Jeff did as a climber. It’s what he’s doing now.”
The feature-length film had been a fledgling project until two years ago, when Lowe and Self met director Jim Aikman. They had been gathering archival footage of his career since 2009, and Lowe traveled with a film crew to Switzerland in 2011 when Ueli Steck attempted to duplicate his ascent of the Eiger’s north face. At Telluride Montainfilm in 2013, Lowe and Self saw “High and Hallowed: Everest 1963.”
“We thought, ‘Ho-hum, here’s another story about Everest,’” Self recalled. “But we loved it.”
Self found the filmmakers behind it at the festival, and co-director Aikman took the helm of what would become “Jeff Lowe’s Metanoia.”
After some trepidation, Lowe decided to open up about his life, including a stretch of self-destructive years and his illness, in the film.
“From the moment I made that decision, I felt like I could separate myself from the story,” Lowe said. “It was like someone else’s life they were talking about.”
Initially, he envisioned it as a climbing movie with a limited scope, but when he saw how his whole story could be of service to others, he embraced the idea of sharing it.
“If it could help someone else, whether it was about his illness, about making mistakes and learning from them, if that could be of value to another person, it was no holds barred,” Self said.
“Metanoia” has been a stand-out on the outdoor-film festival circuit, in what Lowe calls a “lovefest,” premiering to three standing ovations at Banff and winning prizes in Kendal, Vancouver, Slovenia, the Riverside International Film Festival and screening at the Piolet d’Or Awards Ceremony in Chamonix, France.
Outdoor-film festival crowds, such as the one at 5Point, are made up of climbers, skiers, bikers and the like, all devoted to the outdoors. Most of them will never have a first ascent to their name, or make it into the history books or onto the cover of Sports Illustrated, as Lowe has — but all of them will face challenges, illnesses and, at some point, their mortality. That, Self said, is where the film is connecting.
“In any realm of life, if you can embrace your reality, you’re going to be able to deal with it and maybe find some joy,” said Self. “Anyone who has ever faced a challenge will get something from this movie, and I don’t know anyone who hasn’t faced a challenge.”
Mountaineers such as Lowe tend to have the opposite of a thousand-yard stare. After so much time slowly, methodically executing climbs, there’s a thoughtful calm and ease about them. That sense of presence has guided Lowe through his recent years.
“I believe climbing is a special activity,” he said. “It allows you to integrate your spiritual side with your mortal side.”
That’s also why, even now, he believes it’s his obligation to be a voice for the planet, railing against fracking and championing the fight against global warming.
Lowe’s prognosis has been grim in recent years. Multiple times, he’s been told he had months to live. He was in hospice care for two-and-a-half years, but improbably improved to a point where it was no long necessary. After years on oxygen, he weaned himself off of it and his condition improbably improved, which Lowe credits to colloidal silver supplements and his wife credits to Lowe’s indomitable spirit.
“I attribute it to the fact that he has things to do,” she said.
Things like traveling with his film and sharing his story with people such as the 5Point tribe. Lowe is longtime friends with 5Point Film founder Julie Kennedy and her husband, Michael.
“It’s rewarding to be at Julie’s festival,” Lowe said. “It means a lot to me, personally, to be at this festival.”
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