Juneau team to make a different kind of mountain film for the Banff festival

Juneau's Scott Carrlee films his ascent of a 22,493-foot peak with Joel Bennett's help

Posted: Thursday, May 20, 2004

Juneau has more than its share of people who climb mountains, both in Alaska and around the world. And movies about climbing mountains have become almost commonplace, in small film festivals as well as in Hollywood.

But a Juneau climber and a Juneau filmmaker hope to make a different type of climbing movie, perhaps in time to submit it to this year's Banff Mountain Film Festival in Alberta.

Scott Carrlee left Juneau on March 29 to climb Ama Dablam, a 22,493-foot peak in the Himalayas that is considered by some to be a more difficult climb than Mount Everest.

Several Juneau climbers have ascended Ama Dablam. But before Carrlee left, he paired up with Juneau filmmaker Joel Bennett to make his climb unique.

Bennett outfitted Carrlee with a Sony digital video camera worth about $1,500. He gave the climber a few lessons on camera angles and microphones, and enough film and batteries to adequately document the adventure.

"Our idea is to strike into some new ground with this short little story," Bennett said. "It's such a wonderful, stunning, overwhelming panorama, and I think we can build a nice little story from it."

Instead of having the camera acting as an omniscient eye as it does in many climbing films, Bennett and Carrlee wanted the cameraman to be an essential part of the story.

Ideally, the film will focus as much on the interpersonal dynamic of the five climbers in Carrlee's group as it will on the climb itself, Bennett said.

Carrlee returned to Juneau on May 5 with 11 hours of footage from the climb. His group, guided by the Ascending Path guiding company of Girdwood, was waylaid by a snow storm at 20,000 feet and didn't summit the mountain.

Bennett hopes to whittle the footage down to a 6- to 10-minute film.

Carrlee, who works as a conservator for the Alaska State Museum, met Bennett a few years ago when consulting with the filmmaker on a piece of art.

Bennett, who has made a career of working behind the camera, never has participated in a project like this. But he recently has been dabbling in short films, more as a hobby than as a career move, he said.

Two years ago, a project such as this would not have been possible or would have required a more expensive camera.

"A lot of mountain filming is done with very big, cumbersome cameras," Carrlee said. "They're staging it."

The small digital video camera Carrlee used allowed him to film while fully participating in the climb. When the descent of the mountain became harried, the filming had to stop.

Carrlee was drawn to working with Bennett because of some of Bennett's other films, which have a more abstract style, he said.

"What I like about Joel's work is that it doesn't necessarily have to have a narrative quality or a story line in it," Carrlee said.

"It wouldn't bother me if (the film) was sort of a visual poem in a sense - less about telling a story and more about presenting some imagery," he said.

If they're lucky, Bennett and Carrlee will have their film edited and produced in time for this summer's JUMP film festival, a semi-annual film festival in Juneau. Bennett will be credited with producing, editing and directing the film.

• Christine Schmid can be reached at christine.schmid@juneauempire.com.

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