MIDAIR | A Metaphysical Bouldering Film

Posted by Niall Grimes on 20/09/2022

Make bouldering films great again! Louis-Jack set out to make a climbing film that carried on the spirit of great climbing films of the past - and succeeded. MIDAIR takes a creative, quirky sideways and sometimes upside-down look at the world of bouldering and tries to understand what it is asking us. Niall Grimes set out to understand the process behind the film.

Louis-Jack, MIDAIR - what an amazing film. What gave you the idea for the film and what was the first steps you took?

As a filmmaker, I’ve been thinking for some time about making a climbing film. I was really inspired by some older climbing films of the 90s for their counterculture energy and artistic approach to the sport. I wanted to do something that would psyche people up whilst also conveying some of the more unusual things about bouldering and asking some big questions: why the hell do we subject ourselves to so much suffering and disappointment in pursuit of climbing rocks? When the pandemic hit, my friends and I who climb and also work in film were out of work, twiddling our thumbs. It seemed like the perfect moment to go for it.


Tell us about, say, three climbing films you have loved over the years and what was it you liked about them?

E96C
A quirky and esoteric film about the disagreement between John Redhead and Johnny Dawes over the tactics used to climb the Indian Face. Climbing’s greatest poet (Redhead) vs climbing’s greatest philosopher (Dawes) – both true artists.

THE REAL THING
This one needs no introduction. Electric personalities, groundbreakingly climbing and the best soundtrack ever assembled. Fasten your seatbelt if you’re watching it for the first time.

THE DISCIPLES OF GILL
A documentary about the original boulderer (John Gill) by another early practitioner of the sport (Pat Ament). Bouldering, training, chalk – we owe so much to this one, elusive man. Decades ahead of anyone else, the rare footage of him levitating up boulders is remarkable. Only Malcolm Smith has made it look quite so effortless.

The film asks lots of questions and doesn’t give many answers. Is that true of bouldering?

Haha. You might have hit the nail on the head there.

As a result of the pandemic, the film had a long gestation period and was born out of a time that was especially ripe with existential searching. Bouldering was a rock (excuse the pun) for me and I spent a lot of time huddled under rocks, flapping and failing with the writer, Bryn Davies. We were constantly questioning our sanity, asking why it is were doing this to ourselves. But, as all climbers know, there’s no greater buzz than a rare success and so we keep coming back for more!

In all this searching and wondering we failed to answer any of these big questions so the film offers little in the way of definitive answers. But as you suggested Niall, it made me wonder whether climbing is all about the process, the journey, rather than the destination.

If you’re into this philosophical component to climbing, I’d highly recommend the novel ‘Mount Analogue’ by René Daumal: a surreal expedition to ascend an impossibly large, but also invisible, mountain. Daumal says of summits: ‘So what’s the point? Only this: what is above knows what is below, what is below does not know what is above.’ I’m sure all climbers can relate to that in some way.

In the film, the climbers seem to be falling up as much as falling down. Are they the same thing? Are climbers weightless once they let go, no matter which direction they are moving in?

Yes, there’s lots of falling in every direction! I think the most amazing feeling you can experience in climbing is that moment where you’re totally locked in, trying your hardest and flowing. Suddenly, you’re sitting on top of the rock not really knowing how you got from A to B. In that blurred in-between it feels as if you’ve defied the laws of gravity briefly. Our ambition with the film was to find a way to express that otherworldly, fleeting feeling.

The film centres mostly around Jim Pope. Why did you choose him?

Jim is a new generation of climber who is at the cutting edge of the sport whilst also carrying a torch for old-school traditions. I love that he’s excelling in comp climbing and bouldering FAs but equally interested in revisiting hard and scary trad routes.

Climbing is becoming mainstream and commercial, while there are many great things about that, it also runs the risk of losing its soul. Midair comes from a hunger to show climbing in a different light, an alternative way of valuing it as a culture, and that means returning to the sports roots in some ways. The film tries to capture some of that sense of past and future, drawing on what we love about climbing’s heritage and its future whilst giving space to think about what the activity means for the people who love it. To my mind, no one else is tying together all those strands of the sport quite like Jim is. In the film, it felt significant that the main climb was at the Bowder Stone – a major site of bouldering’s evolution. 


What current climbing filmmakers you interest most and are there things about how you see climbing portrayed at the minute that you particularly like or dislike?

There’s more media available than ever before, but so much of it feels empty of the things we love about climbing. I think many climbers feel some disenchantment with how their sport is shown on Instagram or YouTube, especially in comparison to the magical quality that certain images or films held for us when we were discovering it for ourselves. I’m really interested in projects that strive to return to the sport’s DIY roots like Steep Learning Group. They’re not filmmakers as such but a group that’s making images alongside clothing, 3D topos and even jigsaw puzzles. I like their (not-for-profit) attitude and that they’re pushing for a kind of climbing that’s not all about difficulty and danger but having fun and moving on the rocks with style. And – like with MIDAIR and climbing in general – it’s not quite clear what the goal of it all is.

 


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