A different kind of adventure film set to premiere at Arc’teryx Backcountry Academy Whistler. Words :: MJ Castor // Sponsored by :: Arc’teryx.
The reality is very few of us will ever truly understand the scope, size, diversity and overwhelming awesomeness of the Coast Mountains. Spanning a North-South distance of over 1200 kilometers and covering as much area as 8.16 Switzerlands, most of the Coast range is covered in extremely remote wilderness with very few public access roads and a tendency to be routinely hammered by “inclement” weather. To truly get a feel for this massive range of glaciers, rainforest, coastline, and plateaus would take a lifetime, or more.
Lucky for us, there are people happily living their lifetimes out in the stunning wilderness of the Coast Mountains, and Arc’teryx’s newest film Shaped by Wild offers a unique, unfiltered glimpse into some of the areas, people, and cultures that exemplify some of the awe (and a lot of the awesome) held beneath, within, and around these peaks.
“Driving from Vancouver to Pemberton, a lot of us have an idea of what we think this range is,” says Shaped by Wild co-director Cam Sylvester. “But that is a drop in the bucket of the scale and diversity and the people and places in this range.”
In attempting to capture that sense of scale and diversity on film, Sylvester and co-director Bryan Smith felt they needed a more unique, and challenging filmmaking style to suit the wild subject matter.
“We wanted something immersive and authentic,” Sylvester says. “We knew the traditional ‘talking head’ style wouldn’t work. It’s easy to get those kinds of interviews and edit them together to get your point across, but we wanted our audience to see real stories unfolding organically and decide for themselves what this range is all about.”
Drawing inspiration from iconic show-don’t-tell films like Baraka and the hands-off Cinema Verité style of documentary filmmaking popular in the 1960s, Sylvester and Smith spent an entire year conceiving, planning, filming, and piecing together their cinematic ode to the Coast Mountains. And they’re still at it, chipping away at the final edits and colour processing with the ever-looming world premiere set for February 11, 2023 at the Arc’teryx Academy in Whistler.
The Coast Mountains of British Columbia cover nearly 337,000 square kilometres. With that much territory to cover, the first difficult task was choosing subjects for the film. “We knew it would be hard to get a total representation of the range,” Sylvester says, “but in a nutshell: we spent time with [long-time Mountain Life contributors] Joe Lax and Delaney Zayac chasing the big mountain shred dream in the Pemberton area. As well, we have skier Ryan Oakden and Kalissa Lolos, who have moved full-time to the tiny community of Bralorne. They’re so separated from the rest of civilization and embedded deep in the mountains. We think that compromise of convenience and purity is interesting. To some people that isolated lifestyle is super romantic, to others it is a nightmare.”
One often overlooked aspect of the Coast Mountains is the coastline itself. The entire range bumps up against the tumultuous north Pacific Ocean. “The coast and the ocean influence the mountains so heavily it seemed appropriate to spend some time with Meesh Coles and John Kelsey,” Sylvester says. “They live on their sailboat half the year, exploring the coastal fjords and living that simple-but-beautiful boat live. But they work for it, living in 100 square feet takes a certain amount of compromise.”
Mountain climbers felt like a natural fit for a film about a mountain range, so the directors connected with big-wall veteran Julia Niles and her long-time climbing friend Lisa Van Sciver.
“It’s about reckoning with changing priorities,” Sylvester says. “So Julia grabs Lisa and escapes to the Waddington range to bag some big granite and celebrate life in the mountains and that ‘fly on the wall’ feeling.”
The film’s final subject is Chief Jimmy Lulua from the Xeni Gwet’in nation in the Nemiah Valley region. “The Xeni Gwet’in are the only indigenous nation in North America that have their full land and self-governance title back,” Sylvester says. “Historically their people used to traverse the Homathko glacier to trade provisions with the nations on the coast. It was a rite of passage for young people and would take 1-2 weeks to complete. For a number of reasons that tradition fell away, but Chief Jimmy and the nation want to preserve that culture and bring the traverse back.”
To anchor this handful of diverse stories, Smith and Sylvester turned to Don Serl, a storied mountaineer with a lifetime of experience in the range. “We needed someone to articulate the geography and speak to the nature of this place,” Sylvester says. “Don wrote the climbing guide for the Waddington range and is just this total OG mountaineer. Everything he says is so compelling and oozed authenticity. We knew he was the anchor we needed to hold it all together.”
“With all these subjects, we spent so much time just filming and watching and waiting for the right moments to happen. It was a totally different way to do it but it felt like the best way to capture what the Coast Mountains are about. It’s one thing to tell people how fantastic this range is, but we want to show them.”
The premiere is sold out, but keep an eye out for a full-length trailer and more details on screenings coming Fall 2024!