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Josh Greenwood on The People of Climbing

Director Josh Greenwood on his experience filming his 2019 documentary 'The People of Climbing'

“If there is an actual desire to make things more equitable, then show that through the work and the continued commitment to that work. If you do want to change something, it takes more than a couple weeks.” – Josh Greenwood


Josh Greenwood is the director of an exceptional bouldering film: The People of Climbing. His documentary is set in the world famous Horse Pens 40, a sandstone crag in northern Alabama. He recorded an event that has received some attention in recent years, yet remains largely unheralded. He recorded the second annual Color the Crag festival.

The film opens with a haunting voicemail before following narrators and their involvement with climbing and the outdoor community. It discusses the experiences of yoga teacher Michelle Davis as a black yoga instructor, before moving to rock climber Emily Taylor. Taylor is the first black woman to have climbed El Capitan in Yosemite. As she relays her time with climbing, the beautiful shots of Rikki Porter describe a serene 2018 festival. Outdoor educator Justin Parks concludes the narration with a description of the potential involvement the outdoor community could provide in the creation of equitable spaces.

Today, Greenwood lives in Brooklyn. Though he has spent the last decade living in the city, he grew up in Colorado, attending university in Boulder. Colorado is where he found rock climbing. New York is where his passion for direction developed.

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Greenwood worked on many of the sets that base themselves in the city. As he moved through various productions, he gained much of the experience he had sought after. Though this was beneficial, he found himself homesick, missing the rock of his home state. Returning from his climbing hiatus, he looked for a gym where he could find a community. Greenwood said, “When I moved to New York, I missed Colorado, I missed home.

“I found a local climbing gym and started climbing again and I found this group of people. That group of people turned into Brothers of Climbing. That group was great because it was the first time that I had gone climbing and seen more than one other black person. We all gravitated toward one another. With social media being what it was, we eventually found more groups that started to form like Brown Girls Climb. That’s how Color the Crag got started.”

Color the Crag was created in 2017 by Bethany Lebewitz and Mikhail Martin. Lebewitz is the CEO of Brown Girls Climb, LLC while Martin runs the Brothers of Climbing Organization. Together, with the help of their Director of Operations, Brittany Leavitt, the 2018 edition of Color the Crag saw over a 100% increase in participation from the inaugural year.

For Greenwood, the festival was impressive. He said, “It wasn’t just people from the south. It was people from the south, it was people from the northeast, the northwest. We had people from Seattle, we had people from California, all over the place, in the first year.”

Greenwood became inspired by the festival. He said, “To my knowledge, it is one of the only things that exists like it and that’s one of the reasons I wanted to make the film. I wanted people to know it existed, but also hopefully encourage them to do it in their local community and inspire that same amount of joy, excitement, and fun to change the dynamic of your local crag.” The film became a project that could share and promote the festival on an international scale while remaining focused on community.

Greenwood went on to say, “I didn’t really see people trying to document it in a big way. In the outdoor industry there are a lot of people that are co-opting our experiences and imagery. Using it for their own purposes and not really giving us credit or not paying us for our time. I wanted to hopefully bring an honest depiction of our community to make a story by us rather than an outside person. I didn’t want it to just be about climbing because I don’t think that climbing is ever ‘just about climbing.’ That’s one of the cool things about doing it.”

The Color the Crag festival exists, in part, for “making space for black bodies.” Greenwood expressed the importance of creating this space. He said, “There are people that don’t realize that just the opportunity to exist in some of these spaces is privilege in of itself. For the outdoor community, there hasn’t been a reckoning with the idea that for black people, just existing in the outdoors can feel like you are carrying tons of extra weight. That barrier-of-entry is so much different for people of colour and black people.”

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Wow! A big shoutout to everyone who showed up last month for #colorthecrag2019 ! . Color the Crag has grown so much since our first year and some of y’all have come every year to celebrate and climb with us. We are grateful to be a part of such a brilliant and stoked community willing to try hard on the rock and in your gyms and neighborhoods. . This year was no exception! Every year we see more of you creating and holding space for others to experience and grow in this sport. Over 300 Climbers of Color joined us at the festival to celebrate what makes us unique and we couldn’t be more proud! . Thank you for your energy and support. The future of climbing is beautiful, bright, and full of each of your ideas and visions of what that culture and experience should be. We look forward to watching this transformation continue. . 🌟 Remember! We are making a directory for affinity climbing spaces (womxn, adaptive, LGBTQ+,poc, parents, etc) Please fill out our affinity group survey if you or someone you know organizes space for climbing. LINK IN BIO!🌟 . Big thanks to all of our sponsors and to @thenorthface for providing support for this event and all the volunteers, staff, artists and entertainers. . Blessings-The CTC crew . Photos (top to bottom): YR1, YR2, YR3 (@adventurevisionaries , @_fabian.santiago , @urbanclimbr ) Video: YR3 (@urbanclimbr ) . 📍Ancestral land of Chicasaw, Creek, and Cherokee people

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“It’s not just about train hard, try hard, and you will succeed. For us, a lot of the time, you have to deal with your own safety getting to the place. The national parks in the States were segregated for a long time. That fact is wild and not a lot of people realize that, so there are unintentional barriers that people have put up in the industry. But then there are very real, intentional barriers that have been set up in structures of power like the parks that are a newer change that we are still having to deal with. There are financial barriers and sponsorship barriers, a wide range of barriers that we haven’t really accounted for.”

However, Greenwood believes the outdoor community can make changes. He said, “I think the outdoor community has an opportunity to make some progress. When we think about any trip that you would want to go on, you understand that it won’t be comfortable the whole time, you don’t just wake up one day and climb V10. It takes stumbling into building a muscle memory to learn how to do things the right way. What I am challenging people to do is understand and to take it upon themselves to stumble through that work, particularly white folks.”

“It takes a commitment. Not just by putting it on black people that are around you to do that work, it takes a commitment for you to invest yourself, and do some of that work. If you do have the privilege of existing in the outdoors as a white person, examine that, examine what you can do and challenge yourself to do that work. A part of that work is not just on a personal and emotional level, but in an infrastructural way. There are a lot of companies and a lot of brands that have an opportunity to do some real work.”

“There are many companies out there that pride themselves on their progressiveness, but if they look at how many people they actually employ in positions that can affect change, that are people of colour, the number is really small. Even at the festival, there weren’t a ton of black folks that (brands) would send because they don’t have a ton of black people that work at those companies.”

There is a lot of work that can be done. Greenwood said, “There are a lot of things that people don’t think are going to help that would help. If you have a gym, how much is your day pass? If you run a gym, and you live in proximity to a community of colour, how can you engage them rather than them having to come to you? How can you make it affordable to climb, all the time, and get hooked on it? It is wild to me how many people I teach, particularly black and brown folks, who just the idea of climbing feels impossible because they have been told that they are not allowed to exist in that way.”

“I would like to challenge people to do the work to find that group within your neighborhood. I think, right now, that there are a lot of resource guides, and those are great, but it’s almost like that work is being done by black people for white people. What I would like to challenge people to do is engage not only groups but people. Is there a community group that has nothing to do with the outdoors that you can engage in your community?”

Greenwood is excited to continue his work in direction, but also recognizes its expense. His film, The People of Climbing, was funded without external support. The film itself is 14 minutes of gripping cinematography and is well worth your viewership.

The People of Climbing