Thursday, 13 November 2014

Exposure Volume 2 - review

Rock climbing is forever becoming more specialised. Bouldering, sport climbing, competitions, winter climbing, alpinism and the list goes on. As boundaries are pushed in one discipline, it becomes harder to bridge across several at the very highest level. Each niche has its peculiarities, its training requirements and mental aspects and, therefore, demands dedication to not only reach the top but go beyond it, into new territory. 

Exposure Vol. II takes a close look at three of those disciplines and the climbers who are pushing the limits to new heights by focussing, training hard and dedicating their lives to the task. Split into four segments, or chapters, the film is able to tell their stories succinctly, with each having a distinct feel and tone.

First up is Daniel Woods and Jimmy Webb, two climbers from the US who have taken a liking to bouldering, to put it mildly. The pair have been at the forefront of redefining hard climbing moves, repeating and establishing some of the World's highest graded test pieces. While the upper limit has seemingly not progressed in terms of grade in a number of years, the amount of time it now takes to climb an 8C (V15) boulder problem has been reduced to just hours - and that is largely thanks to Daniel and Jimmy. Flashing 8B and former 8B+ boulder problems (downgraded due to flash ascents) is now a seemingly regular occurrence.

Daniel Woods in Bishop - Photo from Sparkshop instagram
This segment of the film is predictably full of hard boulder problems, in North America and Canada, and takes a peek at the development process, as Daniel attempts what could possibly be "the next level" boulder problem. It asks questions as to why there is yet to be a confirmed 8C+ boulder (although there are a few around the world that pose the question: is it 8C+?) and places the duo in the driving seat of trying to find and confirm the answer.

Alongside the hard bouldering, the "bromance" and camaraderie of Daniel and Jimmy has its funny elements too; the pair huddled over a tiny fan attempting to cool their finger tips and Daniel wearing a pair of marigolds when showering, are just two examples. The film then switches gear as it moves into the next segment. It juxtaposes with the solitary Dmitry Sharafutdinov training in Russia for the World Cup competitions.

The first scene of the second segment is Dmitry wandering through an abandoned building. Then we get commentary from both the protagonist and fellow Russian climbing team member Rustam Gelmanov telling us how hard life is in Russia - "if you live in Moscow, you never think about climbing, only making money", we're told. I paraphrase, but you get the gist. As members of the national team, they get no support other than a t-shirt. Their "training gym" appears nothing more than a few ramshackle walls. And Dmitry lives in a teachers' dormitory, where he boasts of having his own room and a bathroom.

Dmitry Sharafutdinov - photo from Sparkshop
Life does indeed appear rather hard for Russian professional rock climbers. And therefore it is a wonder how Dmitry consistently makes podium at World Cup competitions - he's won the overall championship three times, collecting ten gold medals. The film gives us a glimpse into his training, which makes for fascinating viewing for not only the reasons I have already described but also the fact that Dmitry is such a secretive character. Even for those who spend many weeks, if not months, on the road with him, his fellow competitors seemingly know little about the man. Rumours of thousands of pull-ups a week, a diet consisting solely of vast quantities of hard boiled eggs, and exaggerated training routines shroud him in mystery.

This was my favourite segment of the overall Exposure Vol. II film, and it made me want more. Dmitry has been climbing since he was 6 years old, but we never find out how he got into it in the first place. He only ever climbs inside, for logistical and motivational reasons, but I've seen news articles, pictures and videos of trips to Spain, for example. The film gives us a glimpse of the man, but we only learn so much.

After this, we slide from one World Cup competitor to another, Alex Puccio. Alex has been climbing since she was 13 and has focussed a great deal of her career on competitions - to the culmination of being the strongest US female competitor in the World Cup. The pressure that comes with such a responsibility seemingly gets under Alex's skin, as she complains of experiencing massive headaches after competing, having difficulty controlling her nerves and crashing after it's all over. Therefore, due to the struggles of the last season, she makes the decision to switch focus and head outside with a bouldering pad strapped to her back.

Alex Puccio - Photo from Sparkshop Instagram
The film marks the start of Alex's journey towards being the first woman ever to climb two 8B+ (V14) boulder problems. While neither are captured on camera, this groundbreaking news is mentioned at the end of the segment. What we do see is Alex moving from her previous best of 8A+ to 8B, and a demonstration of the power that will carry her even further, onwards to 8B+ and 8C, most likely. As I have done here, this short film focuses on the grades rather than the lines, with most of the commentary revolving around why she hasn't climbed a certain number rather than any particularly inspiring projects that she has up her sleeve. Despite leaving behind the pressure of competitions, it seems the weight of a nation expecting her to ascend the hardest problems ever by a woman replaces it. Which is the worse? Only Alex gets to decide.

Finally, Exposure Vol. II takes a leap, after three bouldering shorts, into the heady heights of sport climbing with Alex Megos. This quietly spoken, young German burst into the international limelight when he became the first ever to onsight 9a. Since then he has made short work of almost every 9a and 9a+ he's touched. The segment takes a closer look at Alex's home crags, around the Frankenjura, overlaid with interviews with his father and others, including his trainer, who explain's his single-mindedness towards getting stronger, fitter and better at rock climbing, giving the impression that we've only begun to see the depths of his capabilities.

This film has overtones of Adam Ondra running throughout it, despite being about Alex. Arguably, the pair possess the most potential to push sport climbing to the limits, 9b+ and beyond, and comparisons between the two are bound to be drawn. Alex's apparent meteoric entrance into the climbing world was indeed born of a media-whipped public humiliation of having the world's first 9a onsight pulled from under Adam's feet by the new kid on the block. Humiliation is too strong a word, but everyone expected Adam to be the first to achieve the previously thought impossible feat, having onsighted several 8c+ routes by this point in his career.

Alex Megos - photo from Sparkshop Instagram
While Adam is never featured physically, there is a showdown of sorts, when Alex travels to Adam's backyard to attempt one of his unrepeated 15m 9a sandstone routes. Having already made the world's most famous 9a, Action Direct, look as simple as walking up a flight of stairs earlier in the film, expectations are set to watch Alex make extremely short work of Adam's creation. However, the route gives him some trouble and repels a one-day ascent, instead taking him a little more time and effort. He completes it eventually, of course, and that feat also concludes the film.

I enjoyed watching Exposure Vol. II but I would like to have seen more depth to many of the individual segments. More insight into the climbers themselves, rather than solely focussing on grades and pushing boundaries. Why are they the best at what they do? Where did they come from and how did they go from there to where they are today? This absence is most apparent in the first segment, with Daniel and Jimmy, as, except for the production values, it is similar to other films of them crushing V14 after V14. The Dmitry film is more of a documentary and, therefore, all the more interesting. Whereas we learn very little about Alex and her history in competitions, with the subject glanced at for just a few short moments. With German Alex we do get some insight, but he is equally skilled at bouldering, which is never mentioned, and, with Cafe Kraft taking the training world by storm, it would have been interesting to get a better look at his training routine and how it differs from others.

For 80 minutes of pure, unadulterated rock climbing action, look no further. Exposure Vol. II is packed with it. Paired with a great soundtrack, it will be a good addition to your collection of psyche inducing films. Check out the trailer.

The full film will be available for digital download from November 21st. Visit the website to find out more.