Get ready for your heart to skip a few beats if you plan to see the current film “Mountain,” featuring goosebumps-inducing footage of wingsuiters, tightrope walkers, BASE jumpers, skiers, mountain bikers and rock climbers pursuing passions that take them to the world’s highest peaks, from Alaska to Tibet.
To make the movie, director Jennifer Peedom relied on the skills of Renan Ozturk, a cinematographer who’s also a mountaineer. While Ozturk shot some fresh footage for “Mountain,” the film is mostly assembled from existing clips he lensed, as well as other images from mountaineers culled from multiple suppliers, as evidenced by the film’s lengthy credits list. Peedom, who also worked with Ozturk on her 2015 documentary “Sherpa,” was impressed by the process.
“When I couldn’t find something, Renan would know where to find it,” she says. “It would just take an email from him to say, ‘Hey, my friend Jen is making a film. Do you have any footage?’ And because he is well loved in that community, people just opened up.”
Explaining the reliance on existing footage, Peedom says it could have taken 10 years to shoot “Mountain” if she and Ozturk had gone on every expedition portrayed in the doc. Sourcing material from mountaineers — many of whom are highly skilled shooters — sped up the process of making the film and offered a breadth of authentic scenarios that show why some people live to conquer peaks despite the risks and hardships involved.
The director notes she was in search of “beautiful, long, epic takes” for the doc because the film was crafted to work with a classical score performed by the Australian Chamber Orchestra, under the musical direction of Richard Tognetti, and narration adapted from British mountaineer Robert Macfarlane’s memoir “Mountains of the Mind” and read by Willem Dafoe.
One captivating sequence, shot just for “Mountain,” finds free solo climber Alex Honnold scaling a sheer granite wall in El Portero Chico, Mexico. It combines drone footage — Anson Fogel was the film’s principal aerial cinematographer — and close-ups captured with a 6K RED Dragon camera operated by Ozturk, who was perched above Honnold on the wall as the climber made his ascent without ropes or harnesses. “It’s a stressful thing shooting someone who’s hanging on by millimeters of rubber on their feet and the tiny half-pads of their fingers,” Ozturk says. “If you were to make the wrong move, things could go horribly wrong. But Alex and I are teammates on the North Face athlete team, and we’ve known each other and climbed together for many years.”
In this film and his other work, Ozturk strives to capture not just athleticism but also emotion. And though Honnold is in what most people would find a terrifying situation, what’s striking is how blissful he appears when he stops during the climb to rest and absorb his surroundings. “Something that I would have hoped to convey is just how comfortable he is and how much he loves it,” Ozturk says. “It plays into the bigger theme of the film — giving people a deeper look at how humans relate to mountains.”