Hannah MitchellBASE Digital Writer Hannah is a Lake District-based journalist and all-round outdoor lass with a particular fondness for rock faces.
Falling – it’s something that most adventure sports enthusiasts, regardless of their discipline, try to avoid. When it comes to bouldering though, falling is a part of the process. In scaling rocks by the hardest route, boulderers seek to achieve weightlessness and momentarily leave the world behind. But with nothing but a pad for protection, untethered and unharnessed, a misplaced foot or finger could be all it takes to succumb to gravity.
MIDAIR explores both the physical and psychological highs and lows of climbing and falling from a fresh perspective, and if the thought of falling through thin air isn’t enough to get your heart thumping, the soundtrack certainly will.
Featuring professional climber Jim Pope amongst other familiar faces of the British bouldering scene, MIDAIR is set against the cinematic backdrops of a number of famed Lake District climbing spots to a hedonistic techno soundtrack. The unconventional climbing film is the result of director and climber Louis-Jack’s vision for an audio-visual expression of the heady mix of hardship and euphoria that climbers – boulderers in particular – experience in the act of ascent.
‘The reality is, at least for me, that I spend a lot of my time bouldering contemplating why the hell I do it,’ says Louis-Jack. ‘Here you are, huddled under a rock, in strange landscapes (not always picturesque), often battling adverse weather, with frozen toes, cursing a lack of skin or weak muscles, and not climbing but just falling – repeatedly!
‘I decided that this existential element needed to be in the film too. To truly convey the reality of bouldering. Ultimately, it’s because of this hardship and doubt that that the highs are as euphoric as they are. When, just for a moment it feels like you’re doing something truly impossible – escaping gravity and leaving the world behind.’
The film’s punchy soundtrack features electronic artists Leftfield, Lanark Artefax and Tessela. It seems as though it would be more at home in a dark, grimy warehouse rave than at your local crag, but the sense of urgency, of time elapsing and repetition within the music reflects the cyclical process of working a boulder or route. And there’s a philosophical side to that process that the film aims to underline too.
‘Bouldering to me is more philosophically interesting and more relatable than mountaineering somehow,’ says Louis-Jack. ‘There’s no epic quest to reach a summit or adventure into unknown territory. There’s no new physical ground to be discovered, often you can simply walk up or around a boulder! The quest is purely internal – it’s a quest to see how far you can push yourself. I hope that resonates with people, that universal need to test our own limits even when the risk of failure is extremely high. I think that’s something relatable to pretty much everyone.’
Bouldering to me is more philosophically interesting and more relatable than mountaineering somehow
Up-lit Lake District landmarks like the Bowder Stone make for atmospheric night time shots, whilst the otherworldly sandstone outcrops of St. Bees on the Western coast of Cumbria showcase a brighter, more exposed outlook. The locations however, as Louis-Jack explains, weren’t only selected for their aesthetic qualities.
‘The locations are a mix of personal favourites and choices made with the climbers,’ he says. ‘I always had in mind shooting some of the scenes at night. It shows the lengths that climbers go to for the right conditions and I also wanted to defy expectations of bouldering being a daytime activity right from the moment you start watching,’ he says.
‘The night scenes also relate to themes of time and space that run through the film. I like the idea of the cycle of bouldering, of training, practicing, projecting, failing or succeeding, existing in a 24 hour period, a single rotation of the earth. Then with a new dawn, the process will start all over again.’
For those unfamiliar with bouldering, it might seem like a strange hobby. The climb-fall-repeat repetition of the sport, with its potential for injury and propensity for failure, some might be reasonably baffled by the boulderer’s single-mindedness to reach the top of that one little bit of rock. MIDAIR offers a glimpse into the boulderer’s psyche, asking the question – why?
‘I’d like for the film to be a little window into the sport for people who have never tried it. An insight into this peculiar activity – why it’s so cool and unique, why it’s so enjoyable whilst also being really bloody hard,’ Louis-Jack explains. ‘Hopefully, an intriguing taster that will get your heart pumping and your palms sweaty!’
A little window into the sport for people who have never tried it. An insight into this peculiar activity
In a break from the typical climbing film format, the film’s melding of slow-motion and montage shot sequencing in wide-screen format focusses far more on the physical experience than the ascent itself. Since premiering in February on Director’s Notes, MIDAIR has won awards at Sheffield Adventure Film Festival and Keswick Film Festival and will be showing at Mountainfilm in Telluride in America later this year, having received critical acclaim and overwhelmingly positive feedback online.
‘We poured in a lot of time and passion into this film and it’s lovely to see it being appreciated,’ Louis-Jack says. ‘However, in many ways, the thing I love even more than the accolades, is all the awesome comments and messages we’ve received on social media. When people respond saying how psyched they are to go climb, or how they’re going to go to the local gym to give it a try for the first time, I do a little fist pump – it’s confirmation that the film is evoking the reaction in people I was hoping for.’
MIDAIR is one of a new generation of climbing films this year, portraying less-seen aspects of the sport, close-to-home locations and the unique perspectives and experiences of those who take part.
For more inspirational climbing film fodder, you can also check out our report on Rise, a short film documenting one climber’s overcoming of physical and mental challenges in their homeland of North Wales.
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