Alastair Lee's latest creation is like no climbing film you've ever seen and it's stunning.
We've just watched Alastair Lee's latest film, Autana and it's stunning. Not just stunning in climbing terms, though it is, but stunning as a film full stop. When Lee first mailed us about it, he - maybe rashly - claimed: 'It's very original I reckon, you've never seen anything like this before! Which is obviously really hard to do in the done to death adventure genre'.
But you know what, he's not far wrong. What makes Autana different is that it's not just a good climbing film, it's made with the same sort of production values and imaginative framing and editing that you'd expect from a top film of any type.
Turn down the sound and watch the opening sequence from it's quasi-mythical animated opening - deep voice: in ancient times, two warriors etc - through the multi-angle shots of the three main climbers in Hawaian shirts and shades setting the scene over a beer or two on the Carribean coast and it could be, oh, I dunno, Johhny Depp plotting a drugs heist in Colombia at the start of some Hollywood epic.
'It's About The Whole Experience...'
It's typical of Lee. He could have shot a quick scene of Houlding talking to the camera about the mission to climb an isolated rotten tooth of a peak deep in the Venezuelan Amazon, but by eaves-dropping on the jawing climbers you get a real feel for the personalities and the vibe - 'I think it's going to get pretty horrific... a proper adventure ... It's not about the climbing, it's about the whole experience'.
And the whole experience includes a hallucinogen-fuelled sharmanic Yopo exorcism - lots of zappy graphics and a very obvious morning after 'hangover' from hell. It says something that the scene-setting before the team actually arrives in the jungle takes 20-odd minutes, a third of the film, but that you never get bored of it.
Pergnant With Low-key Septic Menace
And the jungle is every bit as graphically unpleasant as you'd imagine. Crawling with insects, spiders and termites, visibly steaming, and pregnant with low-key septic menace - bad news for the open friction burns on Houlding's feet, a leftover from the Shamanic, drug-fuelled ritual.
When the climbing actually starts, we're back on familar, vertical ground, albeit initially heavily vegetated and again it's every bit as beautifully filmed as youd expect from watching the Asgard Project. In his credits Lee's inserted a typically sardonic 'FILMED ON A LOAD OF KNACKERED KIT' line, but aside from the technical excellence of the photography, or cinematography (not a term often used with climbing films), Lee's real strength is having realised that climbing itself simply isn't that interesting.
What's gripping are the personalities involved, the stunning situations, the drama of the moment - dirt stained faces from vertical gardening, desperate thrutching up overhanding cracks, epic views across a rolling sea of impossibly lush Amazonian greenery. And then there's the astonishing bivvy cave, the views from which could almost justify a film on their own.
It'll Knock Your Socks Off
I won't spoil the ending, which you probably know already, or blather on about the climbing challenges - Houlding describes the route as 'probably the steepest' he's ever climbed - because in a way they don't matter. All you need to know is that Autana is a beautifully filmed, nicely scored, thoroughly engaging and engrossing hour of adventure cinema that'll knock your little climbing socks off.
Catch it on a big screen if you can. Catch it on DVD if you must. But make sure you see it.
Autana premieres in Newcastle on 18 October, but you can already download it in HD from Lee's web site at www.posingproductions.com.