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Brave New Wild’ Explores Lifestyle Choices Of Rock Climbers

New documentary from UCSD grads gets San Diego premiere at Ken Cinema

One of the many archive images of rock climbing that make the new documentary...

Credit: Ed Cooper Collection

Above: One of the many archive images of rock climbing that make the new documentary "Brave New Wild" so engaging.

KPBS film critic Beth Accomando reviews "Brave New Wild."


Companion viewing

"The Eiger Sanction" (1975)

"Touching the Void" (2003)

"King Lines" (2008)

"The Wildest Dream" (2010)

"Meru" (2015)

UC San Diego grads Oakley Anderson-Moore and Alexander Reinhard hold the San Diego premiere of their new documentary "Brave New Wild" at the Ken Cinema on April 19. It's all about what makes people want to climb seemingly unscalable rocks.

"Brave New Wild" opens with a man reporting on men trying to scale a massive rock face and refusing a rescue team's effort to help them down: "What’s still unanswered is why two men will spend a month’s time and risk their lives merely to climb a rock. But as one climber said, 'If you have to ask why, you wouldn’t understand even if the reason were explained.'"

"Brave New Wild" is willing to ask why and then explain this particular obsession.

Filmmaker Oakley Anderson-Moore has an inside track because her father was a climber in the Golden Age of rock climbing. She gathers family home videos as well as archive footage from the 1950s, '60s, and '70s to explore what made people — all men in the film — abandon jobs and family for a hobo’s life scaling giant rocks. It is both a personal journey for her and an attempt to document an era of rock climbing in America.

On the personal side, Anderson-Moore begins with home videos that she says always seem to pan off her as a child to Half Dome or El Capitan or whatever massive rock drew her dad's attention away from her. She wants to understand what made him climb and why climbing obsessed him.

Part of the discovery process includes interviews with climbing luminaries such as Warren Harding and Royal Robbins, who had a rivalry. She mixes recent interviews with amazing old footage and stills to create a portrait of what these men refer to as the Golden Age of Rock Climbing, a time when places like Half Dome and El Capitan were yet to be scaled. These men were so obsessed with climbing seemingly impossible rocks that they were willing to devote themselves entirely to the the task, working only long enough to get the money to finance a climb.

At times Anderson-Moore tries to pack too much into her film. Some graphics seem cluttered with so much information that we can't read it all plus listen to the audio track and process it all. She also tries to provide a social and political context to help explain why these men might have wanted to abandon the mainstream for a life in the wild. But her core subject is interesting enough on its own that she doesn't need to go off on these tangents.

"Brave New Wild" serves up a breezy, fun and compelling portrait of men who couldn’t resist the challenge of scaling something deemed unclimbable. Anderson-Moore tackles the subject with a genuine desire to understand. The end result is both a loving tribute to these climbers, as well as a revealing glimpse into a world that most people may not be familiar with. You may also leave with a uncontrollable desire to go climb something.

The screening on April 19 will be followed by a Q&A with the filmmakers and some of the rock climbers.

Tickets are available through TUGG.


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Photo of Beth Accomando

Beth Accomando
Arts & Culture Reporter

opening quote marksclosing quote marksI cover arts and culture, from Comic-Con to opera, from pop entertainment to fine art, from zombies to Shakespeare. I am interested in going behind the scenes to explore the creative process; seeing how pop culture reflects social issues; and providing a context for art and entertainment.

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