Documentary ‘This Mountain Life’ gets an encore screening at Wheeler Opera House
IF YOU GO …
What: ‘This Mountain Life’
Where: Wheeler Opera House
When: Sunday, Dec. 16, 6:30 p.m.
How much: $15
Tickets: Wheeler box office; aspenshowtix.com
When the documentary “This Mountain Life” had its U.S. premiere at the Aspen Filmfest in September, an enthusiastic local audience greeted it as a major cinematic event.
The weekday afternoon festival screening at the Isis Theater sold out. When the end credits began rolling and director Grant Baldwin stepped under the screen to take questions, hands shot up across the packed audience. Afterward, a crowd gathered around the filmmaker with more queries and a line snaked down the aisle with viewers waiting to shake his hand.
Clearly, the film needed an encore screening.
“When we saw the response to ‘This Mountain Life’ during Filmfest and heard such enthusiasm from the audience for director Grant Baldwin during his Q&A, we knew this was a film that needed to be shown again, and in a much bigger venue,” said Aspen Film executive director Susan Wrubel.
So, Aspen Film is bringing it back Sunday night at the Wheeler Opera House.
The film is a group portrait of people living in the mountains of British Columbia, Canada. From their diverse perspectives, it aims to capture the spirit of a high-country community and its unique double-helix of hard-charging outdoor pursuit and meditative sustenance.
The film’s characters are living unorthodox lives, but these are experiences familiar to Aspenites.
“I’m glad it relates,” Baldwin said after the film’s first American screening at the festival. “I wasn’t sure, because it’s a really B.C.-focused film and bringing it here I wasn’t sure how people would feel.”
Baldwin directed, edited and shot the film himself — he also composed and recorded its score — traveling deep into the wilderness to follow his subjects and working on a budget of about $100,000 for Canadian public television.
The spine of the film is the story of Martina Haik and her mother, Tania. The mother-daughter pair embarks on a harrowing a six-month, 2,300-kilometer backcountry wintertime trek from Vancouver to Skagway, Alaska, in weather so brutal that a negative-10-degree temperature is considered a warm day.
Between sections of the Haiks’ journey, “This Mountain Life” offers vignettes on various locals across the sprawling Canadian Rockies, including an order of trappist Dominican nuns who live a mostly silent life of prayer.
“Silence is an endangered species in the world today,” says Sister Claire Rolf, who is featured skiing in her full nun’s habit in the film.
“This Mountain Life” also introduces viewers to an idiosyncratic artist who has been living off the grid for five decades, an ice climber from an indigenous tribe, a snow artist who crafts massive and meticulously detailed snowflakes on the landscape and a trio of skiers who give a riveting moment-by-moment account of getting caught in an avalanche while on a backcountry photo shoot. At the time, this terrifying slide — which buried photographer Todd Weselake 6 feet below the surface — was the deepest recorded avalanche burial ever survived in Canada.
Weselake’s story was the catalyst for “This Mountain Life.” Baldwin met him on another shoot and heard the extraordinary story. Weselake then introduced the filmmaker to the Haiks and other fascinating B.C. residents. Baldwin kept his camera rolling and the film’s cast of characters came together organically.
“I wanted to do something very different,” he recalled. “So I started with Todd and then he told me about Martina and Tania doing this trip and I said, ‘When are they leaving? Let me film this!’”
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On Thursday, the Wheeler Opera House will host its first virtual event since the novel coronavirus pandemic shut the theater five months ago.