The following interview took place at this year’s HotDocs Film Festival. It has been edited for coverage at this year’s Vancouver International Film Festival where the movie is also showing!
“THIS MOUNTAIN LIFE follows 60 year-old Tania and her daughter Martina who survive a 6 month ski trek through the treacherous Coast Mountains from Vancouver to Alaska. Their adventure is the main thread of the film, but it’s also intertwined with five other stories about people with incredible passion for the BC mountains from a former ski racer who’s now a nun to a photographer caught in an avalanche. The mountain landscape is awe-inspiring, spectacular, and frankly inhospitable, but it makes for an amazingly cinematic film.” Director Grant Baldwin on THIS MOUNTAIN LIFE which screens at VIFF 2018.
Tell me more about your process of getting this documentary project together!
We are mostly a team of two, so Jen and I wear many hats. We had pitched a few different ideas around a mountain theme, but this is the one that stuck, and we got funding through The Knowledge Network. They’re pretty great to work with, and they really encouraged us to make the film we wanted to. Then we got so lucky with our amazing subjects. Martina and Tania had a set schedule for their trip, so that guided our filming, and we fit the other subjects in around it.
How long was your process from beginning to end and did you have any challenges during the filming process?
It was about 15 months from when we started production to final product, but we had researched, pitched and done a demo in the year before that. There were a lot of logistics; writing letters back and forth to the couple who lives off grid, helicoptering me out to meet the women along their trip and rappelling on an ice wall. And it was a lot of cold nights in tents; I learned to spoon with my camera so it would work the next day! We had a great camera assistant on each shoot who was essential, as they did everything from cooking meals to lugging a massive drone up a mountain. Then I bought a smaller one.
How long did post-production take and editing the final product together?
As a small team, there’s a very fuzzy line between production and post production, but I definitely spent the entirety of my summer in the edit suite. We also had a baby in between shooting and editing that wasn’t originally in the production schedule, but it worked out pretty well. We had just had our first child when we came to Hot Docs the first time, so we joke that we can’t release another film without having a new baby.
Throughout the whole process, what kept you going while making this feature? What drove you?
When I was shivering all night out on some glacier in minus 28 temperature, I did kind of wonder why I was doing it, but I really wanted to share the stories of the people in the film. I don’t want what they’re doing and have done to be forgotten.
A very technical question, but what kind of cameras and editing equipment did you use to capture this documentary?
My favourite kind of question! I could talk tech all day. When we filmed accessible shoots we used a C300 MK2 and, for aerials, an Inspire 2 with X5S camera. When I needed to be really light, and we were traveling for multiple days on foot through the mountains, I would carry a Sony FS5 and a Mavic drone along with glacier survival gear, camping equipment, stove, food fuel, climbing skins, harness and a splitboard. I also used goPros for first person footage of Tania and Martina.
How do you feel with the theatrical experience versus streaming debate for documentaries? Are you okay with the movie going to streaming/digital only, or do you strive for the theatrical experience?
Of course, every director wants to see their film on the big screen, and I think THIS MOUNTAIN LIFE in particular is pretty spectacular; I’m not sure you’d get the full effect if you’re watching it on your phone. That said, I watch tons of films online, and if you want your film to get the most viewers possible, you have to embrace the digital side of things. Our last film had a couple runs at #2 on the US itunes doc chart, and I have to say that felt pretty awesome.
What is the one piece of advice you would say to anyone looking into making a documentary short or feature for the first time?
If you don’t have the budget to hire people to make the film you want, train yourself to do it, and make it anyway. I made my first feature for fun, and it was the calling card that got me funding for my next and my next.
And finally, what is your all time favorite documentary feature film?
THE KING OF KONG. You couldn’t write better characters.
Be sure to follow THIS MOUNTAIN LIFE online at www.mountainlifefilm.com.
For more information on the film screenings at VIFF, point your browser to www.viff.org!