A documentary by Grant Baldwin. Rated PG
A nun in full regalia vigorously skis across Hoth-like tundra midway through this splendid documentary. It’s an inherently funny image, whether or not filmmaker Grant Baldwin chooses to acknowledge it that way. It also succinctly captures what all the mountain lifers we meet over a snow-packed 80 minutes are striving to express. As one reverent climber puts it: “A lot of people refer to their mountaineering as going to church.”
Produced by the Knowledge Network, Baldwin’s film begins with the reminder that 75 percent of British Columbia is composed of mountain terrain that almost nobody will ever see. Mother and daughter team Tania and Martina Halik are determined to change that ratio by just a little, and their 2,300-kilometre trek along the Coast mountain range, from Squamish to Alaska, forms the backbone of the film.
It would take a much longer movie to really convey the scope of their achievement, but Baldwin teases out a neat subtext concerning 60-year-old Tania. Challenging death for six months in the subzero B.C. wilderness mirrors her rugged escape from Communist Czechoslovakia as a pregnant youth (an event so traumatizing that it compels her, for reasons best explained by the movie, to strip down to her underwear when crossing some freezing rapids).
Elsewhere, we hear the truly terrifying account of photographer-pilot Todd Weselake’s rendezvous with an avalanche, which left him cryogenically suspended between life and death for 20 minutes under four metres of snow. The aforementioned Sister Claire lives, Black Narcissus–style, in a silent monastery perched high above Squamish. Snowshoe artist Simon Beck opens the movie with one of its most arresting shots—which is saying something. It ends with artist Bernhard Thor and his wife, Mary, living off the grid for 50 years and counting in a marvellous fairy-tale house just beyond Anderson Lake.
They’re just a little further along than the others in their yearning for a return to the garden, an impulse that you could even trace back to Baldwin’s last film, 2014’s Just Eat It, with its implicit aversion to the complex and doomed systems of urbanization. Of course, the talented cinematographer uses GoPros, drones, and the almighty microchip to deliver this astounding hymn to the natural world, but as Tania Halik would tell you, sometimes the only way around something is through it.