Interview – Roots, Rocks, Arapiles

Documentary filmmakers, Kelsey McGowan and Christian Lavery, have produced a film about the roots of climbing at Mt Arapiles. In what is a bit of a coup, the short is going to be premiered on a big screen. Roots, Rock, Arapiles will be played before the Melbourne screening of Reel Rock at the Astor Theatre on Tuesday 21 November.

Whilst undoubtedly Reel Rock and other travelling film festivals showcase brilliant films of wild adventure, It can feel as if we are watching other histories. Mostly they are the stories of things that happened far away and though we are a global community of climbers, here at VL we are unashamedly parochial about our love of homegrown tales. The story of Arapiles is one that has been told often yet we are still excited to see Roots, Rock, Arapiles, and not only because  Kelsey and Christian got some of the key figures in front of the camera. There have been some great films coming out of Oz recently, long may it continue.

Why did you want to make a film about Arapiles?
Initially the idea for the film started in a documentary class Kelsey was taking at uni, that was when we first got in touch with Steve Craddock. The more research we started doing, we realised nothing much had been documented in video for Arapiles and particularly not with the pioneer climbers. Once we met Steve and Greg Lovejoy we knew we had an amazing opportunity to hear their stories and share them with the world.

What were you hoping to convey to the audience?
We really wanted to inspire audiences to seek out adventure, follow your passions and live your life to the fullest knowing you did what you loved and the experience of priceless satisfaction. We wanted the be able to share these themes and messages with people who aren’t climbers or outdoorsy types as well and really make the message universal.

P1040536Can you tell us a little about how the project came together and how long it all took?
Overall the whole project took us nearly two years to produce. The first 12 months was a lot of researching and production, it took a while to realise the format and flow we were going to use and eventually at some point you just need to let go and not get stuck trying to perfect a film that gets put on the shelf. We wanted to share this film with everyone and earlier this year in January when Steve passed away, it really gave us the final push to get to the finishing line.

What was the hardest thing about making the film?
Between the two of us we produced the entire film. That in itself was one of the biggest challenges, along the way we were navigating how to not just creatively tell a story but learning how to produce. The great thing about making your own films is that you go through every step to make the film, which gives you a greater perspective of what it really takes logistically in this industry. The pioneer climbers we interviewed are all in their 70s, so once we started to really become friends with them it felt like we had such a greater role to make this film, almost like we were holding the key to a story that we had the opportunity to capture in time. Not that this was hard, but I think what it really taught us was that embarking on a documentary production isn’t just about your skill or your creativity, it’s about making a connection and the responsibility you have to uphold that person’s story or that place, not just owing it to Steve but to Arapiles in itself. It’s very moving.

Was there anything that you learned about Arapiles and its history in the film’s making that came as a big surprise?
We were surprised to learn about the gear setup the early climbers were using and that their techniques came from reading books. The old army boots, the early handwritten guide books, waist belays on hemp ropes and the way that in the 1960s people saw climbing as crazy, reckless activity in a similar way that to surfing in the early days.

You are being screened before Reel Rock in Melbourne, a global climbing film phenom, how do you think Australian stories fit in the global pantheon? Are they relevant to audiences wider than our shores?
Absolutely. Personally we are a little disappointed to not see more Australian content shown in adventure festivals particularly in Australia. Stories like Roots, Rock, Arapiles breathe life into history, the land and the spirit of adventure. This story is universal, you don’t have to be an adventure junkie to understand it. Particularly in the adventure film industry there is always a need for innovative ideas, fresh stories, untold corners of the earth and that’s why there is an opportunity to make more Australian adventure films and I believe a growing audience for them as well.

You were fortunate to get Steve on camera before he died, why do you think it is important to preserve the old voices and the stories of Australian climbing?
Older generations have so much to teach us about history and culture. Without the perspectives and stories of people like Steve, we miss that connection in time and the knowledge of how as a sport climbing as evolved because of the work of many over the generations.

RRA 2

Did you have any difficulties convincing the old timers to appear in front of the camera?
Not at all. Steve particularly loved it, he was very eloquent and well versed. He was more prepared for this film than we were!

In many ways Arapiles has changed very little since Steve was climbing there as there has been very little development, in making the film did you get the sense that climbers have changed since Steve’s era?
I think in the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s… climbers weren’t necessarily riskier, but were more aware of their boundaries. They knew their gear wasn’t guaranteed to save them but instead their climbing styles and grades reflected their precautions. They were also always looking for the next new climb or crag or way of getting to higher ledges.

RRA 3What is your own relationship with Arapiles?
We both went to Arapiles for the first time in 2015, after we started the film, so essentially we have been able to relate to Arapiles through the film and the stories we have heard. In my mind I will always imagine Arapiles as it was in the ’60s, it definitely has this interesting mysticism surrounding it. It’s had an old soul and I think it’s that energy that has always inspired climbers and will continue to for the rest of time.

To find out on how you can see the premiere ofRoots, Rocks, Arapiles on the big screen, check out the Bogong Equipment homepage.

For those who can’t make the premiere but who are keen to see see Roots, Rocks, Arapiles you may have to wait a while. The filmmakers currently have no solid plans for distribution so keep your eyes peeled on social media.

Reel Rock continues to tour the country, for more details see The Reel Rock Oz Facebook page.

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