Monday, 29 February 2016

ShAFF review: Transition & Frank And The Tower

Trad climbing is much the same the world over - but it means many different things to many different people. Two films being shown at this year's Sheffield Adventure Film Festival (ShAFF) could not highlight this in much starker contrast.


Natalie Berry - screenshot from Transition

Scottish competition and sport climber Natalie Berry is known largely for her achievements climbing indoors. She has been British lead climbing champion in both the youth and senior categories and won a round of the European Youth Cup in Slovenia in 2007. 

Transition gives an insight into Natalie's first forays into trad climbing and her development over a two-year period. It reveals her motivation for the change - as a means of adventure and to experience places that she wouldn't otherwise visit - and demonstrates the familiar struggle of learning to place gear and rope work. 

Key to Natalie's quick progress, moving from HVS to E7, is mentoring from E11 climber Dave Macleod. Although, in one of the film's hairier moments, Dave takes a tumble from an E10 shortly after introducing Natalie to trad climbing and sprains his ankle - chastising himself for the mistake. It's a wonder how Natalie, who hadn't belayed anyone on a trad climb beforehand, wasn't discouraged.

Beautifully scenic shots come thick and fast courtesy of the Scottish countryside. Interviews with Dave Macleod, the late John Ellison, and others provide background detail on Natalie's past climbing history. And the climactic climb lends a triumphant conclusion to this short film on Natalie's introduction to a new discipline of a sport she has dedicated so much of her life to.

Transition is being shown alongside two further films as part of the Climbing Films 2 session on Friday and Saturday, 11-12 March.

Frank And The Tower

Frank Sanders - screenshot from Frank And The Tower

Frank And The Tower is a profile of someone at the other end of their trad climbing career. Although not THE end by any stretch, it's safe to say after 43 years of climbing and more than 2,000 ascents of the Devil's Tower in Northeastern Wyoming, Frank Sanders is certainly experienced. 

In this entertaining short film, 62-year-old Frank ruminates ebulliently about his career on the Tower and his relationship with climbing. It is a life that has taken him around Canada, the United States and Mexico. His passion seemingly never wavering since 1972, the ever-cheerful ageing hippy dances while selecting trad gear, pulls faces for selfies, and performs yoga techniques after summiting.

Frank fortunately fell into something he loves doing - teaching and guiding others up the Tower - and has remained content ever since. There is a moment in the film when he alludes to a darker time in his life - when he counted the days on his calendar and realised he'd been drunk for over a month straight - but this is short lived. 

Frank And The Tower is a celebration of a character, a man who is entering retirement age completely fulfilled with his life's achievements. If you get to the end of the film and don't want to meet Frank there's clearly something wrong. It made me want to get on a flight to Wyoming to spend a day climbing the Devil's Tower with the man - something tells me it would be an enlightening experience.

Frank And The Tower is being shown in multiple sessions across the weekend of 11-13 March.

Other ShAFF reviews:

  • Sherpa - trouble on Everest 
  • High & Mighty - highball bouldering film
  • Meru - high-stakes, big-wall climbing in the Himalayas