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Film review: Mountain

Film & TV

More a collaborative work of art than a documentary film, Mountain offers spectacular ringside seats at the fight to conquer the wildest peaks of the world, where exquisite beauty and extreme danger open windows onto the sublime.

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The film traces the trajectory of our changing relationship with mountains over the last 300 years. While they were once considered perilous places to be avoided, urbanisation created longing for a return to the wilderness.

Hungry to discover, control and conquer, adventurers responded to their siren call and in 1953 Everest – the greatest peak of them all – was summited by Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hillary.

The ascent of Everest has since become an obsession and a business, and mountains have become arenas in which thrill-seekers play out their quest for transcendence. As they push themselves to extremes, the proximity of death sharpens their sense of feeling truly alive.

Meanwhile, the quiet worship of the people who live beside the mountains continues, prayer wheels and flags marking their respect for these sacred places.

Mountain captures all of this in awe-inspiring breadth.

In what she describes as a “master-class in collaboration”, director Jennifer Peedom joined forces with Richard Tognetti, of the Australian Chamber Orchestra, British writer Robert Macfarlane and cinematographer Renan Ozturk to create the impressive synthesis of music, narration and cinematography.

The film opens quietly as the orchestra tunes its instruments. Anticipation builds. Then the ride begins: cut to jaw-dropping drone footage of a solitary free-climber clinging to a sheer cliff-face. The drone soars away, the climber ant-like against the vastness of the abyss. Cue sweaty palms.

Footage was gathered by Ozturk from various sources – some will recognise material from Sherpa, Peedom’s 2013 award-winning documentary – while vertigo-inducing drone and GoPro shots were gathered from the archives of Sherpa Cinemas, Ozturk’s Camp4 Collective, and others skilled in capturing extreme mountain sports.

We skim glaciers and snowy crags; hurtle down vertical peaks on skis, mountain bikes and snowboards, and fly at terrifying speeds through canyons in wing suits.

The challenge here was to create something seamless out of different styles of camerawork. Thoughtful editing, Willem Dafoe’s rich and poetic narration, and the music (some of which was especially composed by Tognetti, while the rest is by composers including Beethoven, Vivaldi, Grieg and Arvo Pärt, all skilfully performed by the ACO) binds it together to create an epic whole.


Watching this documentary film is as close as many of us will get to the extreme environment of this upper world.

Like films such as Koyaanisqatsi, Mountain removes us from the humdrum of daily life, offering transcendence. Concluding with time-lapse footage of lava flows and glaciers rising and falling, it reminds us of our impermanence and insignificance in the face of these majestic presences – and of our ever-greater need for their wildness.

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