Working on a problem

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Christian Adam
Jimmy Webb on the first ascent of House of Stone (V10), Chimanimani National Park, Zimbabwe.

Entering the lobby of the Boulder Theater on the evening of Jan. 25 for the premiere of Uncharted Lines, a new feature film by the American boulderer Paul Robinson, the atmosphere felt akin to a carnival. There were raffle tickets, booths with spinning wheels, snacks galore and freebies every which way. The mood was decidedly celebratory. After two years of filming and editing, Robinson was finally ready to share his baby: a chronicle of the world’s best boulderers traveling to pristine corners of the world to pioneer the hardest and most aesthetic climbs they could muster.

That two-year journey has taken Robinson from Siberia to Spain, Zimbabwe to Australia. But Colorado is where the project was born. Robinson went to school at the University of Colorado Boulder for art history and studio arts. While a student, he was already one of the strongest boulderers in the country and he sought a way to combine his chosen passions of climbing and art.

“I was around a lot of photographers and videographers at the time,” he says, “and I was super interested in learning the process so I could eventually tell the stories of boulder problems.”

Adv_Uncharted Lines PremiereMichael Levy

After school he made a handful of independent films, but his inexperience and amateurism was evident; the edits were rarely more than straightforward bouldering footage set to music. As he ruminated on this, the idea for Uncharted Lines emerged: a film to explore the process of developing new climbing areas in unexplored places. Sitting with climbing partners below a boulder one day, not really climbing, Robinson says the title surfaced organically. “We came up with Uncharted Lines,  and it just felt like it fit perfectly.”

“I’ve tried to create much more of a story” with Uncharted Lines, Robinson says. “It’s not just boulders and scenic shots — there’s much more of a story and a sense of place within the environments where we are.”

And the vistas on display are stunning. Sweeping pull-away shots to the tune of songs like Kishi Bashi’s “Ha Ha Ha Pt. II” and Of Monsters and Men’s “Dirty Paws” show boulder strewn landscapes in Alcaniz, Spain, and Chimanimani National Park, Zimbabwe; the former all sun and warm colors, the latter full of cool greys and greens.

The film is fairly serious in tone, but moments of levity are aplenty: Chris Sharma (perhaps the most famous climber in the world) laughing at his inability to get off the ground on one route; Daniel Woods goofing off with his friends while working on Creature From the Black Lagoon, a new V16 he established and one of the hardest boulder problems in the world. And these moments are vital to the story being told; amid the sometimes self-important voice-overs about the journey to find new areas and rocks, they show that the process of route development for these guys is an unparalleled joy.

Even with the breadth of locations the film covers, others were left on the cutting room floor. Robinson says that one of his favorite new boulder problems from the entire Uncharted Lines journey was Golden Year, a V12 in the Grampians, Australia.

“Definitely one of the best first ascents of my life,” he says. “Long, tall, hard. Spent two days working on it. It was perfect. And you don’t really find that many perfect lines out there.”

Paul Robinson on the first ascent of The Night Wanderers (V9), Alcaniz, Spain.Alexandra Kahn
Paul Robinson on the first ascent of The Night Wanderers (V9), Alcaniz, Spain.

Despite routes like Golden Year and a fair bit of footage from Australia, the scenes from Down Under just didn’t fit in the final narrative. It was hard enough to make Zimbabwe, Spain, the Southern and Western U.S., and Siberia all fit in one film.

“During the editing process, it kind of just felt like we’d never be able to stitch all the pieces together and create this final story,” Robinson says. “Between cataloging footage and editing, taking a massive amount of data and putting it together into a cohesive one-hour piece has definitely been difficult.”

Though originally from New Jersey, Robinson has made Boulder his adopted home and having the film finish with a section in Colorado and the Western U.S. was important to him. After 45 minutes of soaring drone shots of Zimbabwe, Spain and Siberia, the audience finds itself watching the climbers hike through wooded Western states. “It’s fairly simple,” Robinson says, “but the idea behind that was ‘We’re coming home.’”

And the audience on Jan. 25 was clearly appreciative of this narrative choice. When non-superstar, home-town climbers graced the screen in the final Colorado/Wyoming chapter — Hunter Damiani and Meagan Martin, in particular — huge cheers erupted.

Robinson is hoping he can ride the momentum from the premiere and put the film in front of as many viewers as possible. There are already screenings booked in California, Tennessee and Alabama, and the film is available to purchase for streaming and digital download at UnchartedLinesFilm.com. If all goes well and the film is able to recoup its budget — much of it fronted by Robinson and his pals — he has ideas for a sequel.

“You can only fit so much into an hour-and-10-minute film,” he says. “We wanted to go to South America. Definitely some potential options down there for the future. Hopefully we can do another.”