“Hey, there’s a film competition about adventurous women. That sounds like it’d be right up your street.”
This or something to this effect was a message I got from a friend on Facebook. I just shook my head. What does this have to do with me? At the time, not only had I only been climbing for a short time, but I had absolutely no idea how to go about making movies. What a crazy idea, I thought, and completely forgot about it.
A year later, the same competition, a similar message. This time, though, things were different. Not only had I become much more familiar with the climbing community and come up with a good idea for a film, but I had even formed a friendship with the brilliant filmmaker Leon Buchholz.
The film competition I’m referring to is called “Women in Adventure”. It has been hosted every year for the last five years by the BMC, and the reasons for participating are manifold:
- The winning film will be shown at several outdoor film festivals.
- The number of women in outdoor films (whether in front of or behind the camera) should be promoted.
- Motivate other women to go outside.
- And there’s even some prize money.
What more could you want? Pursuing a hobby, filming something and maybe even inspiring a few other people with your passion… Doesn’t sound too bad, does it? Or so it seemed.
After deciding to give it a go, I started to make some plans. If you haven’t climbed a 6000+ metre mountain or climbed at advanced grades, what are you supposed to talk about in a film about climbing? After some brainstorming, it dawned on me that I could talk about something that I had been dealing with at the time: the fear of falling.
Could I use that for the film? I mean, it’s something every climber deals with. Some may never admit it or overcome it quickly, true, but there are still plenty of us who haven’t beat it – yet. It’s often women who raise the issue, and it’s not at all uncommon for those women to feel ashamed as a result. I’ve seen it myself. With all that in mind, it’s the perfect subject for a film. Or so it seemed.
A film is made…
As is often the case when you do something you’ve never done before, we put the cart before the horse and got started.
With a rough idea in mind and not much else, off we went to the crag to film. After a lot of falls (and almost just as many near-heart attacks), we managed to put together quite a few good takes. Then, I took off to start writing the voice over script.
Because of scheduling problems, everything was put on ice for a while. In the meantime, I just kept on climbing, thinking about what to write and worrying that the whole thing would just end up being way too depressing. I mean, who likes watching someone be scared for ten minutes, anyway?
But it all turned out differently, as you can see for yourself in the final film:
15 minutes of fame
Everything was an absolute success: Leon’s magic transformed the beautiful days outdoors into an even more beautiful film. My employer, Alpinetrek, was thrilled as well and even promised to give us some monetary support.
Three days after the release of the film, I had already had 11,000 viewers. We received positive feedback everywhere we shared it. It seemed like nobody could stop us. Of all the films that were submitted, ours was by far the one with the most views.
As you can imagine, we didn’t want to miss the screening and award ceremony in Sheffield. So, we booked our flight, headed to Sheffield and even ended up winning the prize for the most watched film – and getting a barrage of compliments in the process. Everything was so perfect. Or so it seemed.
Reality sets in
When I was writing the script for the film, I was extremely motivated. My goal was not only to inspire as much as possible, but also to show women in particular that it is completely normal to be afraid and nothing to be ashamed of. And, I was really looking forward to seeing inspirational films with large audiences and sharing outdoor experiences with other women and even interested men. You know, breaking down barriers, at least a little. Unfortunately, though, those dreams never became a reality. In fact, most of my hopes were completely shattered.
Where to begin. Well, for a start, you would think that the screening would take place in a cinema, especially since there was an address for a cinema on the tickets for the film festival. But no, that’s not where the screening was. Nope, the screening took place in a foyer upstairs.
You could even hear the bass from the music playing in the showroom below. Another oddity: In front of an audience of about forty people (most of them female), there were five women who, instead of commenting on the films shown at the festival, chose to talk about all sorts of other outdoor films and topics. To top things off, the microphones didn’t work, so, as you can imagine, the moderator’s attempts to guide the discussion were doomed to failure from the very beginning.
The “screen” turned out to be a television screen – connected to a laptop. Because of the background noise and the terrible sound, it was very hard to pay attention.
Three films ended up winning, all of which had one thing in common: They were very artistic and used the “outdoor” theme more as a canvas than as motivation to go outside (obviously, this is my subjective opinion).
Other films were submitted to the competition as well (you could watch them all online) and praised several times, but they were not shown at the festival itself.
On the bright side, there was one really nice bit: Afterwards, we all stood together in groups and discussed everything I had hoped for… the only downside was that there was a man behind us stacking the chairs and asking us to get our things out of the way. Not really my idea of comfort.
I know, all this makes me sound like a bad loser. I admit, I was a bit disappointed that our film failed to get the attention we had expected, especially considering how well it was received by the internet viewers. The greater disappointment, though, was something different entirely.
A bad aftertaste
I must admit, I was quite confused and stunned when I left. I really began to wonder what the point of the film festival was.
Events like this are everywhere: They’re supposed to promote women in some area or another or give them a “safe place” where they can develop independently, free from (supposed) male dominance.
This is no different when it comes to the outdoors. There are climbing groups, courses and competitions – all organised for women only.
I have never really known exactly where I stand on this issue and had great hopes for the festival. I had assumed that the festival would have a different message, something along the lines of: “Look, we don’t have to hide. We’re just as crazy about the outdoors as any man is and just as good.”
But why did it feel like a half-hearted event, struggling to justify its existence? What good is it to make a big ado about something when hardly anyone sees it?
Instead of bringing itself to the fore, the film festival has literally pushed itself into a corner. I mean, it took place in a foyer for Pete’s sake. My male friends couldn’t help but shake their heads over the topics and the atmosphere at the festival, and quite frankly, I don’t blame them.
Instead of bringing the genders closer together, it felt like they put up one barrier after the other: Men were excluded instead of invited, not physically, but in the selection of topics.
Sadly, one of the participants demonstrated this point perfectly: Whilst chatting with me afterwards, she handed me a flyer for her podcast about outdoor women. When my friend looked at her in the hopes of receiving a flyer as well, she said simply “for women only”. What does she think would happen if he listened to it? Would the podcast crash all of the sudden?
In my opinion, this event demonstrated once again just where communication between the sexes in climbing, outdoors and in many other areas of life is lacking: Instead of building bridges and celebrating the community, women seclude themselves in an attempt to feel “more understood”.
In the short term, this could help to motivate and get “us” out of the corner some feel we’re in (I don’t feel that way). But, in the long run, I think this plan is doomed to fail. What’s the point of talking to people who already have the same opinion as you, anyway? Why don’t we have a conversation instead?
At a competition I recently took part in for the fun of it, the organiser – a well-known sports brand – told me that they were planning the same competition later in the year for women only. They did it last year and it seemed to be very well received – they even had hair and nail stylists there.
On the one hand, I think: “Wow cool, a girl’s day.” On the other hand, I wonder: Why don’t they just do it all at once? They don’t do it for men, so why do it for us?
Maybe I have a distorted view on this issue. Most of my climbing partners are men, and I’ve never found that strange. If someone comes on to me or says something I don’t like, I give them a verbal slap in the face and cross them off my list of partners. When I literally have to trust someone with my life, it’s imperative that I like them, but gender has no place in the matter.
So I’m pleading here: Ladies, go outside and tell the men how you feel when you’re climbing. If somebody rubs you the wrong way, write them off and stand your ground. Change can only be achieved through perseverance and we have to show it here. Climbing is one of those wonderful sports where it doesn’t matter whether you’re a man or a woman. Everyone struggles with their own problems and has to overcome them on their own. Anyone can support you in the process.
Only together can we truly show what a wonderful sport this is and tackle the adventures that await us. It’s not that hard.
Or so it seems.