In search of the ineffable, inescapable story

Reel Rock climbs above the crop

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Michael J. Casey | Boulder Weekly

Our stories have to be deeper, they have to have something special, they have to have that filmic quality about it, and that’s actually a lot of pressure on us, to make these stories feel big and something just different than you would see online,” Peter Mortimer tells Boulder Weekly.

Mortimer, co-founder of the Reel Rock film tour, is a man with a laser focus. Currently gearing up for another ascent, Mortimer is doing his best to remain ahead of the curve.

“I think our angle is definitely more fun. We would like people to walk out [of Reel Rock] inspired,” Mortimer continues. “We want the end result to be like you want to go out there, you want to rock climb, you want to go to the mountains.”

Founded in 2006 by Mortimer and Josh Lowell, the Reel Rock film tour is an annual showcase of the biggest stories and characters in the climbing world. This year’s edition opens on Sept. 17 at Chautauqua Auditorium with five films destined to accomplish Mortimer’s goals: A Line in the Sky, Dawn Wall: First Look, Showdown at Horseshoe Hell, High and Might and a Dean Potter tribute.

Each film is wrapped in inspiration, community and story, which has been at the core of Reel Rock since its debut. As the climbing world exploded into the mainstream, Mortimer knew that for Reel Rock to remain relevant, he had to find a way to stay ahead of the pack. The answer: embrace story and the characters at the heart of that story. And there are few greater characters in the climbing world than Alex Honnold.

“With Alex Honnold, we did a piece, Alone on the Wall [REEL ROCK 2009],” Mortimer says. “That got developed into a National Geographic TV series … and then we produced the piece on him for 60 Minutes and that really made [Honnold] a breakout sensation.”

Charismatic, affable and irreverent, Honnold is the perfect subject for Mortimer’s story-centric mission of Reel Rock, and Reel Rock 10’s centerpiece, A Line in the Sky, documents Honnold and Tommy Caldwell’s ascent of the Fitz Roy Traverse in Patagonia, Argentina.

“[A Line in the Sky] is Alex Honnold and Tommy Caldwell, the Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan of our generation of climbers,” Mortimer gushes. “These guys are just one in a billion individuals: incredible athletes, completely bold, totally dedicated.”

A series of seven peaks that Patagonia Clothing uses as their logo, Mortimer describes the Fitz Roy traverse as the “most iconic line on the planet Earth.”

“People have dreamed about it,” Mortimer says. “And these guys go down in a six-day push and do the thing.”

Mortimer provided Honnold and Caldwell with cameras and told them to bring back footage, but both were more focused on the climb than documenting the climb, which ultimately worked in Mortimer’s favor.

“[It] was this incredible insight into the what it’s like for those two guys to be in this incredibly dangerous, perilous situation,” Mortimer says. “But these guys are completely joyous the whole time. They’re having the time of their lives. They’re making fun of themselves, goofing around, it’s just some of the most fun stuff to watch that I’ve ever seen come back from a film shoot.”

Mortimer and company bolstered the raw footage with aerial photography, reenactments and interviews to shape the climb into a cohesive story. These additions transform A Line in the Sky from a home movie into a narrative that anyone can engage with. “I think people on both sides — people on the mainstream media and from the core community — look at Reel Rock as a place to go for the next big stories from the climbing world,” Mortimer says.

ON THE BILL: Reel Rock 10. Sept. 17 & 18, 7:30 p.m. Chautauqua Auditorium 900 Baseline Road, Boulder, 303-442-3282. Tickets start at $17. www.chautauqua.com