Friday Flick: Beyond the Drop

In the world of action sports, it sometimes seems as if life is measured in adrenaline rushes—in moments that make you suck in for air or force you to reevaluate your definition of fear. But, as Mark Anders shows in his new kayaking film Beyond the Drop, sometimes it’s the quieter moments where you step back and look around that prove most memorable.

Beyond the Drop follows six pro kayakers as they take on the Rio Tulijá, or Agua Azul, in Chiapas, Mexico. Drawn to the river for its legendary series of waterfalls, the kayakers soon discover that there is more than just whitewater to explore in Chiapas, including a rich indigenous culture and a beautiful countryside full of people proud to show it off.

We talked to Anders about traveling through Zapatista territory, filming waterfalls and how he’s breaking the mold for adrenaline films.

Mountain Life: This is pretty unusual as far as adventure films go. How did you decide to make Beyond the Drop?

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Mark Anders: Over the years, I’ve spent a fair bit of time working with pro kayakers. I’ve had some pretty great adventures traveling with these guys, but then when it comes to the average kayak video, all that the audience ever sees is the highlight reel. The three-second drop. Yet there’s so much more to it than just that. I thought it would be interesting to bring the audience behind the curtain to see what really goes on, and what really drives these paddlers to do what they do.

ML: Tell us about where you were in Mexico. Why did you pick this spot?

MA: Why’d we pick this spot? Two reasons: the steep waterfalls and the neon blue water. It’s really a pretty epic spot. Specifically, we were down in Southern Mexico, in the state of Chiapas, on the Rio Tulijá. The interesting thing is, there’s this relatively busy touristy spot nearby called Agua Azul. It’s a nice waterfall, but hidden just a few miles further downstream inside the rainforest is a collection of five waterfalls, back-to-back, that are much larger and more beautiful than the touristy one. Thing is, the only way to get there is to hike in through a dense rainforest into Zapatista rebel territory. The camera team was definitely a little nervous hiking in because we had many thousands of dollars of camera gear and had heard gnarly stories about the Zapatistas. But the rebels turned out to be super welcoming. They followed us down to the river, and spent the day hanging out with us to watch the pros drop the massive waterfalls in their backyard.

ML: We, as adventure athletes, live for the drop. Why tell the story beyond?

MA: I gotta refer to my answer to question #1 here. I guess, there’s so much more than meets the eye. I wanted to share with the audience all the amazing stuff that exists—and must happen—before the drop ever goes down.

ML: The film focuses on action in and out of the water. How did the athletes feel about moving away from making just an adrenaline film?

MA: Thankfully, our athlete team was very open to the idea of a short film that went a bit deeper than just action sports porn. I think, in the end, they were keen to share with the audience all that goes into their lives beyond their two- or three-second waterfall drops—I mean, to get to these beautifully remote rivers, the athletes are always having some serious adventure travel. Of course, the paddlers were definitely more comfortable on-camera while in the water, but let’s just say cervesa and tequila does wonders for calming nerves.

ML: This is a pretty high intensity video. Can you talk about how you were able to capture those angles? What was the most challenging part?

MA: We were able to capture those angles because we had a team of super-talented filmers, spearheaded by Rush Sturges (pro paddler and head of River Roots) including Matt Baker, Thatcher Bean and Adam Mills Elliott. Matty and Thatcher hiked in every day, perched on the riverbank; meanwhile Adam paddled alongside the pros to capture a lot of the on-water type shots. And then, of course, we had lots of GoPros rolling. All of the paddlers are really dialed in with their GoPros, some even have custom-built tripods that mount the camera onto the stern of their kayaks for that epic POV shot.

ML: What’s next?

MA: Currently I’m collaborating with pro paddlers Rush Sturges and Rafa Ortiz, of River Roots, on a documentary following Rafa’s attempt to drop Niagara Falls, due out in late 2014. I’m also currently working with famed director Dana Brown on his remake of the 1970s motorcycle documentary On Any Sunday, and with skate director Ty Evans and Brain Farm Cinema on what will be the biggest budget skateboard film ever.