Mountain Dir: Jennifer Peedom (NZIFF)


Mountain junkies, classical music lovers and Willem Dafoe fans are all in for a treat, with this enthralling look at what makes mountains move us.

Bafta-nominated director Jennifer Peedom was responsible for the brilliant Sherpa that played in 2015, and if you saw that you’ve already booked your ticket for her follow-up.

It’s a bit of a co-lab here, with the Australian Chamber Orchestra, British author Robert Macfarlane and her acclaimed cinematographer Rean Ozturk (Meru, Sherpa).

Basically it’s a look at why mountains take hold of our imaginations, but it’s so much more than that. Marrying classical music to sweeping mountain shots makes for some stunning sequences. But add the craggy Willem Dafoe reading excerpts from Macfarlane’s book Mountains of the Mind makes for a powerful meditation on why we strive to conquer these majestic peaks.

Shot across countless countries via time-lapse, slow-motion, helicopters, go-pro and drones, you are not short of breath-taking and jaw-dropping footage. At times it’s a case of Where’s Wally, looking for little dots clambering away on snowy peaks, other times up close dizzyingly staring down at a free climber (with no safety ropes) on a sheer cliff face.

A companion piece to Toa Fraser’s equally heart-pounding and philosophical The Free Man, there’s not only the expected mountaineering endeavours but a fair amount of Red-Bull fuelled fun on snowboards, mountain bikes and wingsuits.

But for a 74 minute movie some of it felt like filler, a grab for the extreme-sports enthusiasts and a reason to stretch out to feature length. It would have been a better and more engrossing watch exploring the hard-to-reach pinnacles – and maybe naming a few locations – rather than the motorbike trails.

Though it doesn’t take away from a fascinating ponder on the allure of the mountains, from religious beliefs (the Tibetan monasteries are beautifully shot) and historical moments – including Sir Ed’s conquest of Everest – to modern examination of the commercialisation of the world’s highest peak. People don’t climb anymore, they queue narrates Dafoe.

Richard Tognetti (who scored Master and Commander) and his ACO drive up the goosebumps with Beethoven, Vivaldi, Chopin and new compositions from Tognetti himself. Some enchance the expertly edited vision and others, like Vivaldi’s dramatic Winter composition, turn beauty into horror to great effect.

A filmmaker who has found her forte, Peedom has orchestrated a stunning and moving collaboration with the ACO. While those in the lucky country are getting to see this with live performances by the Chamber, at least get along to see Mountain on the big screen, it is seductive stuff.

Clayton Barnett (