Australian director Jennifer Peedom explores our fascination with mountains
Her breathtaking film is a musical collaboration with the Australian Chamber Orchestra and examines the allure of the mighty peak
Jennifer Peedom is best known for her critically acclaimed film Sherpa, which exposed the risks taken by Sherpas working for foreign climbers on Everest.
Her latest film, Mountain, is just as jaw-dropping. It combines dizzying footage with a soaring classical soundtrack and thoughtful narration from Willem Dafoe.
We asked Peedom how the film came about and which is her favourite mountain range.
Mountain is very different from your Bafta-nominated film Sherpa...
The appeal of Mountain was the Australian Chamber Orchestra. They brought the project to me three years ago, as collaboration – live concert performance, with film. They are one of the finest chamber orchestras in the world, and well known for their collaborations with interesting artists, so it was an honour to be asked.
As a filmmaker, I have made many films in the mountains, the best known being Sherpa. I was curious to explore the nature of our modern fascination with mountains. This project felt like the perfect opportunity to explore those ideas in a creative way.
Did you fit the music to the footage or vice versa?
In some cases, the music drove the pictures and we would edit to it. Other times, Richard Tognetti would compose something bespoke to fit the pictures.
Remembering that the film had to work as a concert with a classical repertoire as well, we had to find pieces of classical music that worked in the film. This was actually incredibly difficult, as we weren’t able to edit these pieces; they had to be played in their entirety.
What was the hardest footage to shoot?
For emotional reasons, the hardest footage to film was the aftermath of the avalanche on Everest that we filmed in 2014. It was a tragic day.
Physically, the most difficult footage to capture is always the handheld climbing footage. Probably the most difficult of all of those shoots for the cinematographers Renan Ozturk and Jimmy Chin was the footage shot while making their two attempts on Meru. Probably one of the most epic climbs of all time, and to capture the footage they did makes it all the more remarkable.
Have you ever had any close calls in the course of your career?
I’ve filmed on four Himalayan expeditions (three on Everest and one on Cho Oyo) and have been very lucky. On Everest in 2016, seven out of eight members on our team suffered frostbite. I just lost a few toenails…
I was at Base Camp filming Sherpa in 2014 when an avalanche in the icefall killed 16 Sherpas about 1km away. The following year a massive earthquake triggered another avalanche that swept through base camp – right through where my camp had been situated the following year.
Did you have to climb lots of mountains or are you stuck in the editing suite?
I was only on location in the Himalayas and Japan for this film. Our footage was captured by many incredible cinematographers, who are really testing the boundaries of what is possible in adventure cinematography.
The footage is literally breathtaking – what’s your favourite sequence?
I’ve always loved the first sequence of Alex Honnold climbing El Sendero Luminoso in Mexico. It sums up many of the ideas in the film.
What’s the allure of mountains for you?
When I was younger, I was drawn to the mountains, but I’m far less of a thrill-seeker now. Having children changes your capacity for risk-taking.
Do you have a favourite mountain range?
My favourite mountain range is the Himalayas, as that is where I have spent the most time. But I also love the Southern Alps of New Zealand where I learnt to climb.
Which mountains are still on your bucket list?
I was recently in Nepal visiting my Sherpa friends, and made a pact to climb Ama Dablam in Nepal with my friend Phurba Tashi one day. It is my favourite mountain, and features heavily in the film. It is the very last shot.
Mountain is available on Blu-ray and DVD from 29 January