Hannah MitchellBASE Digital Writer Hannah is a Lake District-based journalist and all-round outdoor lass with a particular fondness for rock faces.
Tenacity, determination and overcoming obstacles are all key themes in director Chris Thomas‘s short film Rise. Striking visuals and a moving soundtrack help to document Welsh climber Delyth Owen‘s story, from her diagnosis of a Functional Neurological Disorder, to her resolve not to be defined by her condition.
We chatted to Chris about the importance of narrative, landscape and relatability in this uplifting, cinematic short.
Functional Neurological Disorder (FND) is a little-understood condition that can be triggered by a combination of neurological and psychological factors and is often resultant of trauma or mental health issues. Symptoms vary from person-to-person, and for Delyth Owen, this manifests as non-epileptic seizures, during which she experiences loss of control of her mind and body – the most integral components of climbing.
Rise tells a deeply personal story set against the imposing backdrop of the Dinorwic slate quarry in North Wales. Seeking solace within the steely grey walls, Delyth uses climbing as a means to reconnect with a mind that she has so often tried to escape from.
The challenges I face will not define me
Not only shedding light on a condition that many might never have even heard of, Rise also highlights the importance of access and connection to landscape and adventure as a means of release, even therapy, for all kinds of people.
‘I guess the narrative structure of the story is kind of simple, really. It’s almost like just capturing or observing someone’s journey from point A to B, and I felt like what I wanted to look into was the kind of similarities and parallels between us and landscape,’ explains Chris.
‘It felt like Delyth was talking a lot about fragility and there are similar elements in terms of the landscape in the quarry itself, it’s a fragile place and the weather and its moods come in and out – and that’s something that happens with Delyth’s experiences as well. I wanted the narrative to be a sort-of physical representation of that journey.’
Living in London, Chris’s personal connection to North Wales often draws him back to the area. Steeped in an intriguing and tragic history, the now-defunct Dinorwic slate quarry draws in awe-struck sightseers, marvelling at the scale of this imposing landmark, it’s also a rock climber’s paradise. The combination of unique scenery and temperamental Welsh weather systems made the quarry the ideal location for capturing the evolving mood of the film.
‘All my family is based in Wales so there’s always this sort-of force that’s driving me back to make films there, to tell stories,’ says Chris. ‘It’s so unique. You’d struggle to find anywhere else like it in the world. The weather moves super fast, so continuity can be quite problematic. But at the same time, if it rains, there’s always a chance that there’s going to be a bright spell afterwards. We were able to use that changing of weather and light at what felt like a really transitional point in the film, and in a way that linked Delyth’s story to the natural forces at play.’
The film was shot as Covid-19 lockdown and travel restrictions were lifted, making its underpinning themes even more apposite as people clamoured to reconnect with the outside world. For Chris, being locked-down in London put the power of place and landscape into sharp focus, and the importance of sharing these elements with others through the film.
‘I think there’s a longing amongst people, something within the last two to four years especially, that has made people want to branch out and get into the wild,’ says Chris. ‘Being outdoors can have such a profound effect on people’s mental health and for me, it’s become an important factor too. Breaking away from the city – it’s like a reset. And I think those particular things are guiding me as a filmmaker too, those mountainous or coastal terrains, the influence they have on us and the way we interact with them are becoming big parts of my storytelling.’
It’s so unique. You struggle to find anywhere else like that in the world
Being outdoors can have such a profound effect on people’s mental health
Having shot previous projects at the quarry, it was a familiar environment for the team to work in. Whilst the location has been the setting for many climbing films in the past, Chris envisaged creating one that vastly differed in theme, telling a tale of purposeful adventure, focussing on a type of climber not often seen in such films.
‘I knew I would love to go back to the quarry, to do something else in that environment. But in the back of my mind I always questioned, what’s the story? What’s going to give this location weight and a narrative?‘ says Chris. ‘I was looking for someone with a story to tell, so I put a little message on the North Wales Climbing Facebook group, I knew that a lot of people in that group climbed at the quarry. Delyth was actually one of the first people I spoke to, it was quite a big thing for her to talk openly about her experiences with FND and I think she kind of liked the idea of doing something like this to help her to tell that story.’
The paradoxic nature of Delyth’s symptoms in relation to climbing was something that Chris found particularly poignant, and whilst searching for a subject for his filmic passion project, relatability and purpose were at the forefront of his mind.
‘I think what interested me most about Delyth’s story was that she had a condition that affected her movement as well as her mental and physical state, and what a climber really needs is to have that mind – body exchange,’ says Chris. ‘I was also looking for somebody that wasn’t a professional athlete or anything, I wanted somebody who was just very normal, someone who wasn’t just doing this thing, but had some form of purpose behind their climbing. I knew that if I was going to make a film about something like climbing, it needed also to relate to other things, and to be relatable to people outside of the sport.’
Whilst Rise is undeniably a story about Delyth and her battle to feel at peace in her own body and mind, accessibility and the overcoming of obstacles are themes which Chris believes a lot of people can relate to.
‘Honestly, FND wasn’t something I had heard of before,’ he says. ‘But by listening to Delyth’s experiences and doing some research, I got to learn a lot more about the condition and how it affects more people than you’d think.
‘Delyth has her own experience of it, but if you speak to somebody else, it’s completely different, in the same way we all face our own individual challenges in life. So whilst Rise is about FND in part, it isn’t necessarily solely a story about the condition. It’s about tenacity and a desire to do something, and not to be held back by it. I think a lot of people can probably relate to that, with something they’ve experienced and had to overcome.’
It’s about tenacity and a desire to do something, and not to be held back by it
The film’s narrative, soundtrack and lighting progresses upward as Delyth reaches the top of her climb, a poignant reminder of the challenges and ascent that many people face, not only in activities such as climbing, but in day-to-day life too.
Rise is part of an important narrative that we’re seeing more and more in outdoor media – one that celebrates not only elite, athletic achievements, but those of everyday adventurers. Delyth’s story reminds us to reconnect with the landscape around us, to find a deeper meaning and purpose in movement, and when things get hard, to rise to the challenge, whatever that may be.
Don’t miss a single adventure
Sign up to our free newsletter and get a weekly BASE hit to your inbox