By Eli Wallace
As part of 2015’s Boulder International Film Festival, I had the pleasure of enjoying Valley Uprising, the newest climbing documentary from Sender Films. The documentary itself cements climber lore into an enjoyable animation/interview-based narrative. By choosing a few figureheads out of the three Yosemite Climber generations, Valley Uprising tells a cohesive story instead of trying to document every climber rivalry or innovation, and it does so in a way that’s both informative and entertaining.
I’ve read a few criticisms of the film that all fall along the same lines: climbing wasn’t invented in Yosemite. It’s a fair point for a film that elevates the Yosemite valley to the pinnacle of worldwide climbing, but I’m afraid it misses the point. Valley Uprising isn’t really about worldwide climber culture, though that’s the lens the story is told through.
Rather, it’s about the valley itself, and the rise and fall of new vanguards of athleticism in Camp Four. The film highlights the major innovations of three counter-cultural generations—Royal Robbins & Beatnik climbers, the Stone Masters, and today’s Stone Monkeys—in order to explore how those innovations changed the valley and how climbers interact with it. In the process, the audience speeds along on a killer ride.
If there’s a single scene that encapsulates the mix of history lesson, inspiring athleticism, and harrowing adrenaline rush that fills the film, it has to be when Dean Potter attempts to highline (slacklining high above the ground, basically) over an enormous canyon, sans ropes or harness, and falls. Spoiler: he catches the rope. But from that point forward, you realize the truth in the message of the film, as said by Warren Harding, upon ascending the Dawn Wall and being asked by reporters, “Why on God’s green earth do you climb mountains?”— “Because we’re insane, why else?”
Or, perhaps the real message is the be one with the rock and climbing is freedom philosophy of Alex Honnold/Royal Robbins/John Bachar. Your choice. Either way, these athletes’ highs and lows are well worth the watch. Valley Uprising doesn’t have another showing scheduled for BIFF2015, but you can likely catch it during the festival repeats, in the coming week.