Climbing films are changing. 15 years ago, climbers turned toward the classic low-budget compilations found in Dosage and the early stages of YouTube. Larger productions featuring the best climbers in the world brought forth films like Progression, but large-scale climbing movies remained inaccessible.
Reel Rock began the change that evolved through to larger scale productions that appealed to larger audiences. In 2014, Valley Uprising inspired another generation of climbers to fall into the now rapidly developing sport. Iconic athletes from the past tied together with the best big wall climbers of 2014. Their dreams described in the now-classic Yosemite climbing documentary were eventually realized in the 2017 and 2018 releases of The Dawn Wall and Free Solo.
Picking a favourite between these adjacent films is challenging, but the mark they left on the world is easy to appreciate. Overnight, people who had limited interest in climbing spoke about the incredible nature of Alex Honnold. While The Dawn Wall saw a more limited audience, it had a similar effect and brought an exciting Yosemite climbing story into the bloodstream of the North American populous. With the stage set, Jimmy Chin’s Free Solo became the first climbing film to earn an Oscar.
The interim brought about the Olympic Games and a new age of YouTube. Athlete-created content flooded climbers’ feeds, providing an unprecedented look into the lives and training of those willing to share. In 2019, Director Nick Hardie began an ambitious new project aimed at capturing the lives of four of climbing’s strongest competition climbers. This film became Sport Climbing’s first Feature Length Documentary.
The Wall: Climb for Gold is a 90-minute, four-person documentary that begins in 2019. The film focuses on Brooke Raboutou, Miho Nonaka, Shauna Coxsey and Janja Garnbret, four prolific competitive climbers representing the United States, Japan, Great Britain, and Slovenia respectively.
While we have seen climbing competition in larger films in the past, it never saw much attention. Rock climbing always preceded competition climbing. This once fair assessment came from the fact that the best competition climbers were often the best rock climbers as well. Climbing on polyester and fibreglass and polyurethane holds was considered less than real climbing, which many described as movement on rock.
With the limelight focused outside the developing sport, these presuppositions did not come as a surprise. Competitive Climbing, in the US at least, took time to become its own discipline. In the last five to seven years, this changed. While there were climbers that trained exclusively for competition before this period, being strong at rock climbing was a good indicator of how well a competitor might do in a competition.
The setting style revolved around hard slow moves, or heavy dead-points to bad holds. Strength described the routes the athletes climbed and their relative position in the field. The advent of Comp Style, also known as Skate Style, changed the sport. Comp Style routesetting is a competition focused type of setting based heavily on technique. Without a doubt, the climbs have become extremely hard as well, but for the first time, a World Cup podium maker is no longer guaranteed to be one of the strongest rock climbers in the world.
While everyone on the World Cup circuit could be considered monstrously strong when compared to the average climber, the top of the field in rock and in competition no longer align. The training is different.
Although rock climbing has received much of the attention in media, competition climbing is becoming a brand all in itself. Athletes are walking away with larger sponsorship deals and the sport is being elevated through events like the Tokyo Olympics, the forthcoming Paris Olympics, and film premiers such as those we’ve seen for The Wall.
Over these last months, The Wall: Climb for Gold has toured around the world with Olympians speaking at each of the premieres. On Jan. 18, the film hit streaming sites for purchase. So, is it worth your watching?
The film opens with biographies entering in on never seen footage and stories of the world’s best climbers. It takes the audience through the insecurities and challenges that come along with being an Olympian. The contrasting backgrounds of the film’s subjects provide numerous opportunities for the climber to find themselves in their favourite athlete and appreciate the challenges that come from performing at such a level.
It talks about the internal doubts and overcoming fears in the pursuit of an Olympics unlike any other. Not only was it Sport Climbing’s Olympic debut, but it was also one of the most fraught Games in the history of the Olympics. With delays and questions, ethically and otherwise, athletes dedicated to an event that might be cancelled.
They changed their training to do it, for the world asked them to compete in all three of climbing’s disciplines. Never had such high-level athletes competed in Speed, Boulder, and Lead, all within the same day. It became a brutal style of competition.
Hardie takes the audience through these stories that culminate in and after the Olympic Final. What is most impressive, aside from the athletes themselves, is the manner by which he does this. A person need not familiarize themselves with the sport in advance of watching the film. The documentary follows a structure similar to other sport films and is easily digestible. The magnitude of the event is communicated well and is something you can watch with your family.
Is this a film you should see? Yes. Even the hardline rock-exclusive climbers of the world have skills to learn from the words of Nonaka, Garnbret, Coxsey and Raboutou. This film will be remembered as part of another turning point in climbing’s history. It will become a talked of in conversation with the Olympics and this 12 month span will be immortalized as the time climbing and its athletes began to reach new heights.
Buy The Wall: Climb for Gold here.