Autumn brings many things to the climber: a lack of flying beasties, improving conditions, in our case space in laybys to park on weekend days off and in recent years, the Reel Rock Tour. Now in it’s fourth year in North Wales, it’s an event that you can expect annually now and one that is always well frequented; so much so, it’s a bit of a who’s who of the local scene.
Last year, as i have documented elsewhere, i was less than impressed. For those not acquainted with the concept, it stems from the old Dosage films, with several short films each featuring something impressive from the last year’s international (or more realistically, American) climbing. Sadly, last year changed the pace a little, focusing solely on a history of Yosemite. While a good film in it’s own right, it wasn’t a Reel Rock style film.
This year has seen a return to form, with five films on a variety of disciplines and topics. An Alpine style vid, a Dean Potter tribute, a flick on highball bouldering, a weird and obscure competition in Arkansas and a look at the first free ascent of the Dawn Wall, it held promise. Nevertheless, with my confidence knocked (from both Valley Uprising last year and the slightly disappointing Reel Rock 7, which i remembered also being a bit Valley-heavy) i had initially planned to give last night’s showing in Caernarfon’s Galeri a miss until a last minute text from Ruth.
I’m very glad she changed my mind. While pre-film socialising was missed due to dinner at KFC, the whole reason we were there proved to be excellent. Even the adverts proved better than usual, considering they included footage of Emma Twyford dancing at the crag while she watched from the front row, to much glee and mockery from those around her.
The first installment, the longest of the evening at 35 minutes, took us through the first ascent of the Fitzroy traverse by Tommy Caldwell and Alex Honnold. I’ve seen plenty of these sort of films before, where there is a heavy focus on the danger and exposed nature of this niche of climbing but not this time. Instead we were treated to watching two world-class rock climbers finding their feet on snow and ice – and often finding them slip! The jovial nature of the pair lent an air of humanness to the situation, in the style of the famous Belgians in the films Asgard Jamming, Vertical Sailing Greenland and Venezuala Jungle Jam. The fact that Caldwell has his family in the village below gives yet another edge to a fantastic film.
Next came the one i was really not looking forward to. I have never hidden my disdain for Dean Potter, my opinion not changing since his unexpected demise this year. He was also a major player with Reel Rock, Sender Films and Big Up Productions, so the thought of a tribute to him filled me with a touch of dread, expecting a half-hour homage to the greatest man who had ever lived.
To their enormous credit, the tribute was excellent: humble, honest, heartfelt from those who will obviously miss him greatly while not being over the top in any way. At 6 minutes, the length was perfect and while i personally didn’t like the man in the slightest, i completely respect their decision to include a tribute to someone at the cutting edge and a good friend of theirs. It was done beautifully.
The interval offered a brief opportunity for some socialising, grasped with both hands by the audience. When back, the action recommenced with the one that had pricked my ears up: Daniel Woods coming to terms with highball boulders. As a dedicated boulderer, this is the film that really struck a chord, even though highballs really aren’t my thing. Despite them being mini routes, it was still refreshing to see climbers falling off things for the first time in a couple of years. While a little bit zen, it was another excellent short, thoroughly enjoyed.
Maintaining the laid back nature of this years Reel Rock was taken to a new level with the fourth installment: 24 Hours of Horseshoe Hell. Utterly absurd and obscure, this sun-up to sun-up competition pitched two locals against Alex Honnold again to complete as many hard lines as possible in the midst of a huge drunken party. The competitive nature couldn’t last over the insanity of the event, giving a unique and encapsulating 20 minutes – once again, hitting just the right amount of time.
But Reel Rock being Reel Rock, and with Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson’s landmark free ascent of The Dawn Wall, there was no way we were going to escape another Yosemite chapter this year. What they did do, again much to their enormous credit, is to keep it brief and to the point. Ten minutes was plenty to get the point across and not dwell on something that could’ve overwhelmed the whole event, yet leave even me wanting to see more.
I hear that next year will see a feature length film to their outstanding achievement. Before i was concerned that it would become the sole film in Reel Rock 2016 but now, i feel a bit more optimistic that it will be a separate film in it’s own right. Only time will tell.
What cannot be denied is that this year’s incarnation has been excellently and professionally done; a true return to form from one of the world’s leading filmmakers. Yes, there are still little problems, such as there being a very small leading cast (every film still features one of a very short list of climbers) and is definitely America-focused but i suppose that is the producers prerogative and leaves the door open for others to pick up the mantle for other areas of the world. It has reminded me of my threat to make a North Wales Bouldering feature film and hopefully inspired many more around the world to do likewise and champion their own back yards. In the mean time, having this on the shelf to inspire will most definitely keep the psyche high.
For more information on the Reel Rock Tour, please click here for their official site. Previous editions can be purchased from Cordee. Please feel free to leave comments on this or any other climbing films below. Happy viewing!