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2015

This year has been one for the books; punctuation on a surreal decade, and I’m poised to enter my thirties with style.

 

Zimbabwe Climbing-76

 

Here’s the tally:

  • Put up my 1st First Ascent (“Lord Jim,” V5 Highball, Zimbabwe)
  • Had my fourth and final hip surgery
  • Appendectomy Surgery
  • Became an Uncle
  • Was a groomsman for one of my best friends (in a kilt)
  • Won the Mountainfilm Commitment Grant
  • Traveled to:
    • Puerto Rico, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Peru
  • Surfed in four different oceans
  • Lived out of my car for four months
  • Drove from Boulder to Portland three times
  • Moved to Portland
  • Dozens of festival screenings of Metanoia in as many countries, winning multiple awards
  • Bought a $12,000 camera
  • Finished two films and started two more
  • Started a new company
  • Bought a surfboard
  • Bought a scooter

I guess its no surprise that I’m single.

 

 

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Q&A with Metanoia Director Jim Aikman in the San Juan Independent

Interviewed by Samantha Wright
Entire Article: http://sjindependent.org/report/jeff-lowes-metanoia-wings-its-way-to-telluride/655

Behind the scenes at the studio shoot that created the iconic Singing Bowl imagery in the film.

Behind the scenes at the studio shoot that created the iconic Singing Bowl imagery in the film.

Adventure filmmaker and photographer James Aikman of Boulder, Colo. had never met Jeff Lowe before agreeing to direct Metanoia, and was tapped to take the lead on the project only after Self and Lowe saw his film High and Hallowed premier at MountainFilm in 2013.

Aikman has created films and promotional content for Sender Films, National Geographic, Eddie Bauer, Mountain Hardware, Evolv and other organizations. He specializes in bringing the outdoor adventure lifestyle to the big screen and telling true stories about athletes at locations around the world.

The San Juan Independent’s Samantha Wright caught up with Aikman by cell phone as he was driving across Colorado earlier this week, making his annual pilgrimage from Boulder to Telluride to attend MountainFilm.

Samantha Wright: What was it like working on a film whose subject you thought was dying?

Jim Aikman: When we were filming post-production it was definitely a race for the finish. We were pretty sure Jeff wasn’t going to be there for the release of the film, which obviously would make things different than they are. Jeff is actually doing pretty well.

I was hesitant to take the job, because I was unsure I’d be able to deal with the subject matter. There were lots of moments of putting my head on the desk for maybe 10 minutes to cry and then come back to work.

I hadn’t spent a lot of time with people suffering from such a severe infirmity until this project. It was really cool for me to get to know Jeff. I didn’t know him before the film so it was amazing, getting to know someone with such a full life who is such a different person now. In some ways I know Jeff better than anyone in the world, and in other ways I don’t know him at all.

It’s almost like I was writing a biography of somebody because he couldn’t really tell me about himself. I had to get it through interviews and writing.

SW: What were some of your aesthetic inspirations and challenges in making Metanoia?

JA: Early on in the project, the first challenge was, ‘How do we shoot this in an interesting way?’ Finding out how to shoot a subject in a wheelchair in an apartment in an interesting way is pretty challenging.

The subject matter did give me the opportunity to have some fun with different types of metaphors and get a little weird with it, which was an awesome opportunity. A lot of the story and a lot of what he went through was pretty out there. Some of it is very cosmic stuff, so trying to paint that experience visually was a really cool opportunity.

SW: When you started working on the project, Jeff Lowe really didn’t want to be portrayed in his current state. How long did it take to bring him around and realize that was an important part of the story?

JA: The film hadn’t found itself yet when it came to me. At first Jeff was making the film and it was just about his experience on Metanoia. It was kind of a love story for the Eiger. It wasn’t so much about his transformation as it relates to today.

Connie, as producer, saw the value of that thread. Really, that’s the story – how did this experience on the mountain transform his ability to be such a badass even now? It was really Connie who saw it going in that direction.

Then there is all this historical background. It’s important to know what he did who he was in order to fully understand the irony of what’s going on now.

At a certain point Jeff kind of stepped back and accepted the fact that we were going to know his story as best we could, but that he wasn’t telling his own story.

As that all evolved, and I came on, they were ready to say ‘Here’s what we’ve got. Let us know what you think the best way to tell the story is.’

They really liked the style of moving around in time instead of in a linear fashion. It’s my personal style, but also one that lends itself well to the parallel story threads going on in the film. There are a few very similar cruxes in his life, and I wanted to tell them alongside each other so that certain thought points would come through at the same time.

SW: What were the cruxes in his life that you brought out in the film?

JA: The biggest one was his personal transformation, going from being a young man to someone who would be a good father and husband, and leave a good legacy.

I don’t want to say he had demons, but he had to find his place in the world the way anyone does. Obviously being such an exceptional person, that goes into the lesson.

In the second half of the film, that really comes through.

I can’t imagine for Jeff what it’s like to sit in the theater time and time again and see all of this weakness picked apart and put under a microscope. But he does it. That shows how well he’s come to terms with all the hard times he’s had in his life. Not everyone has that opportunity.

SW: For him to sit there time after time after time and watch it play out before him must be incredibly cathartic.

JA: I think the whole filmmaking process has been a catharsis for him. At first it was really hard for him. He fought back pretty hard about my decision to include a lot of the missteps that he had in his life, but in the end, the humanity of the film is the most important part of it.

SW: That’s what people really love about the movie, is that it’s so much about the human condition.

JA: I think climbers are a good case study for the human condition.

SW: What was the hardest thing for you about this film project?

JA: Working on a film where the producers are also the subject is super challenging. They have their own vision of what their story is, and it’s such a hard thing to step back and see it the way I see it.

The other big challenge was how to end it. The story is still ongoing, but we wanted to finish it in time for Jeff, which created a strange, inconclusive element. We decided to end it on as strong and positive a note as we could, to show Jeff overcoming. If we had finished a year later, the ending would probably be a lot different.

There were decisions about how to visually represent some of these very abstract concepts that Jeff experienced. That was a challenge.

Another challenge was Jeff’s life was so rich with material and stories and experiences and adventures. It was really difficult to hit on which ones were relevant to the story that we’re really telling here. This isn’t a biography; this is a film about an experience.

So it was hard for Jeff to leave some of these things out of the film and for me to navigate all those different stories and find the ones that would strengthen the film rather than taking away.

SW: I imagine you had to come to a very strong understanding of what the film was really about.

JA: That was the part that was missing when I came on board. We just had a film about Jeff. That is not a film.

SW: How are you feeling now that the film is out in the world and it’s being so well received?

JA: Great. To be totally honest, I have a hard time watching the film. But I’m very happy it is done and I think watching it now, there is a lot I would do differently, but I can’t really think of it that way because I am equally tied to my own vision, as well as satisfying Jeff and Connie’s that they are paying me to create.

SW: How did Jeff and Connie initially find you?

JA: They were at the premier of my last film at MountainFilm. They liked it and thought that my approach to that film was what they were looking for with theirs. They had been through a number of different filmmakers and none of them worked out. And they courted me for a couple of months. I didn’t know if I could tell a story like this.

SW: Ultimately, do you feel like you succeeded in telling the story?

JA: Yeah. It’s interesting. I think if you ask the three of us, ‘Is this the film you would have made on your own?’ we would all say no, but we have kind of arrived at a place where we are at peace with it. I don’t think Jeff has ever been 100 percent satisfied; what he had in his mind was very difficult to grasp. So I don’t know that he could ever have been 100 percent satisfied.

SW: What year did you come on board with the film?

JA: Summer of 2013. About two years ago.

SW: It seems amazing you were able to pull it all together in a year and a half.

JA: It was a big push. There were a lot of obstacles. But, I feel ready for anything now.

SW: There’s a lot of anticipation for this film being screened at MountainFilm this year. What do you hope that people who see the film will take away from it?

JA: It’s about treating adversity as an opportunity to grow rather than as a bummer. The opening line of film speaks to that. Climbing is this amazing metaphor for how we can approach challenges in the rest of our lives. It’s really just about facing challenges head on, and how much stronger you are when you come out the other side of that. Jeff is living proof of that.

SW: What does MountainFilm mean to you as a filmmaker?

JA: It’s the reason we do this. It’s like the holy pilgrimage. We are all so grateful to have it, because it really fuels so much and it gives us a chance to do this amazing crazy job.

Learn much more about Jeff Lowe’s Metanoia and watch the movie trailer here:

http://jeffloweclimber.com/The-Movie.html

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Malama Ka Aina (Care for the Land)

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Last September I returned to the island of Kaui in the Kingdom of Hawai’i, following a trip in 2010 to document the uncovering of a holy site long overgrown and now surrounded by western resorts and developments. Our video work four years ago helped secure funding from the federal and state governments to protect and restore this site, Kaneiolouma, a Heiau on the south side of the island. There are dozens of these Heiau’s remaining in Hawai’i, but none with the cultural significance or preserved condition of Kaneiolouma, where boatloads of people from Polynesia and New Zealand would come to compete in the legendary Makahiki Games. The fruits of our labor in 2010 can be seen here: Kaneiolouma.

My return trip last year was to document the site’s progress and share with investor’s to see their ROI. I returned to find a new stone wall constructed around the Heiau to keep out unwanted travelers, designate the boundary, and protect the valuable resources and mana that the site still possesses. There were new monuments erected around the site, and a general understanding in the community that it was more than a pile of rocks. Standing in the middle of the Heiau, you can still feel the energy that pulses through the land.

The primary objective of my first trip was to interview all of the key players in the movement and secure its funding, but this time I intended to dig much deeper into the spirit behind the movement; why were these Hawaiians concerned about the Heiau? What happened to their culture – what blood stains its history? What I found was a culture horribly denigrated for their traditions, from which its people were alienated over decades of integration into the almighty Americana. The project became so much bigger than the Heiau; it became an investigation of atrocities committed over the last century for which there can be no reparations. Despite the color of my skin and nationality, the Hawaiians welcomed me into their homes, cooking me dinner, playing music, and enjoying the air. These elder kahunas still catch their dinner in the tide, farm taro in the fields and mountains, harvest salt from their ponds, and live Hawaiian.

I think it is the greatest challenge of my generation to reconcile the history of horrible oppression that we’ve inherited. I suppose every generation inherits such a legacy, but it seems that it hasn’t been until now that a generation has ultimately refused to turn around and do it all over again, on some different stage with new players. At least I can hope that will be the case… Time will tell. However, that doesn’t mean we can deny our part in what we’ve inherited – it is a condition of the lifestyle we enjoy. We can resent our pedigree, we can rebel, but we are shouting at our own reflections in the mirror. It leaves me with a feeling of dread, and of course, embarrassment. There will be a future, there is no doubt about that, and we will define it, but how do we move past the mistakes of the past without just laying fresh sod over its victims? Returning from a place whose cultures and traditions faced a hundred years of oppression and burn on still with the fire of a thousand torches reminds me how much stronger these “indigenous” cultures are than the stale, colorless, one dimensional bullshit we’ve been fed by television and advertising in this country. What we flattened out, homogenized, raped and plundered, was all that was still authentic in the world, trading truth for capitalism, implementing systems of manipulation so the rich get richer and make ample tinder on the bonfire of the vanities. Its all going down in flames while the decision-makers hide behind some sense of pride for “civilizing” the world… Riding the atom bomb out of the sky and shrieking with delight at the beauty and horror of the inevitable end to the whole fucking party.

Well… all of that aside, I hope to challenge the conventional wisdom of American viewers who think they might know what happened in history to an entire Kingdom of people thriving under their own government and manifest destiny until their land, their history, their way of life was stripped from them in the name of Western progress. Its certainly mind blowing for me to sit with a seventy year old Hawaiian and hear how his identity was taken from him and buried in a dark, unmarked grave, without even the reward of total citizenship. Its time for their voices to be heard. This is only the beginning, but eventually this will become a feature documentary.

 

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"Jeff Lowe's Metanoia" Production in Full Swing

A story about a climber, cutting his teeth during the developmental stages of the sport, contributing thousands of new, difficult routes to the pantheon of rock, ice and alpine climbing and innovating the equipment and techniques necessary to push the sport into the future, shifting the planet’s perception of what was possible; a story about a man, struggling through his life to live simply, responsibly, and with love, amidst turbulent marriages, both romantic and corporate; finally, a story about a disease, and this man’s ability to face his own mortality with the grace and integrity necessary to not only surpass the medical community’s expectations, but actually thrive in a new world where getting out of bed becomes a challenge tantamount to climbing the world’s gnarliest peaks.

This is the story of Jeff Lowe.

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Since October, when I came on as Director, Editor and Producer of “Jeff Lowe’s Metanoia”, production has been in full swing and I will be deep in the trenches until it is finished in the spring. We’re re-inventing Jeff’s story, his legacy, and the power of climbing to embolden all of us in the face of life and death.

Jeff is currently suffering from a condition similar to ALS, or Lou Gehrigs disease. He is limited to a motorized wheel chair and has lost his ability to speak clearly. The tragic irony of his current situation, compared to the boundless mobility he enjoyed as a climber, is central to this film and Jeff’s inspiring story.

On September 6th, around the same time I started working on the film, I went in for my first reconstructive hip surgery, which has made climbing impossible for me and temporarily derailed my self-image; If I’m not a climber, what am I? On December 6th, I went in for my second reconstructive surgery, on my other hip. It will be six months before I can climb again. Going through this experience now, at this point in my life, at the same time that I’ve jumped into Jeff’s film and gotten to know him as a human being in a much more difficult circumstance, suffering a much more grave malady, has not only put my own condition into perspective but given me the strength I need to stay patient, focus on recovering, and appreciate every day I have as an able-bodied young man.

Jeff is an incredible inspiration, and his story will shine on the big screen. I’m currently in the scripting stages of the film and wrapping up the last of the cinematography. I hope to see you at the premiere, along with Jeff who, despite all odds, may yet outlive us all.

Watch the trailer here!

Learn more and make a donation here

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Flame On

In the beginning of my career in adventure film, there were breakthroughs almost daily – encountering new challenges, learning new techniques, discovering new sources of inspiration, transcending possibilities – because it was all new to me and my experience so limited. It wasn’t that difficult or uncommon to have my mind blown wide open, like a junky’s first hit or an adolescent orgasm. Gradually, as I moved along through the years and various experiences, things naturally became redundant, filming with familiar people in familiar settings performing familiar acts, but occasionally I’m lucky to put myself in new circumstances where I feel completely vulnerable. My shoot in Salt Lake City last week was just that: a totally new challenge, and the realization of a childhood dream. photo 3

Petzl makes a device called the EXO, similar to a Grigri, which allows firefighters to escape quickly from a burning building, as high as the fifth floor, when they have no other means of egress. In the wake of a tragedy within the New York City Fire Department, where six fire fighters had to jump from the fourth story of a burning building and only three survived, NYC fire fighters are now required to carry a Bail Out system, such as the EXO, on them at all times. A few other companies make similar devices, but none provide the practicality and security of the EXO (you’re welcome Petzl!).

In order to show the device in action, we got access to a World War II era ammunition factory that had been converted into a training center for fire fighters. The whole building is rigged with flame throwers and smoke machines, which required myself and the rest of the film crew to don turnout gear and run into the flames with Captain Steve Crandall, a veteran firefighter and all around badass. I thought my camera was actually going to start melting. For the exterior portion of the shoot, I rappelled in from the top of the ten story building to shoot Captain Crandall’s bailout from above and nearly got fried like a rotisserie chicken when the flame thrower was throttled a little too high:

 

[tubepress video=”68737727″]
 

 

 

 

It was a great reminder of why I love this job. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the direction I want my career to take and its always reassuring to get done with a project that feels so fulfilling… Makes me feel like I’m on the right track. More on that in the next post, as well as an update on projects in the works.

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I am

Breathing out as much as in, to live in the present until time stops, and then live forever in that eternal cessation.

A fleeting bat of the cosmic eye, twinkling in the ether, toppling domino after domino of the mighty collapse.

 

6/19/13

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2013 American Alpine Club Annual Benefit Dinner

Tom Hornbein, Yours Truly, and Jim Whittaker

After a hurricane of video editing last week and a horrible knot in my back from the gangster lean, I finished a 15 minute cut of my upcoming feature film about the 1963 American Everest expedition and headed off to San Francisco to premiere it in front of four of the surviving members of the ‘63 expedition and more than 700 American Alpine Club members and donors. Donning my finest (borrowed) duds, I prepared to also be the photographer at the event as part of my ongoing volunteer contributions to the AAC. The event went swimmingly, I shot the hell out of it, met some of my heroes and had some incredible moments and connections with men thrice my age whose experiences and triumphs live infamously in the annuls of mountaineering and the dreaming of my eager heart. The dinner went incredibly, raised a mountain of money, the film was very well received and made Tom Hornbein cry tears of joy – my goal for the evening and the only response that I cared about in that whole room of viewers, who were probably the hardest audience this film will encounter during its entire circulation given their knowledge and intimacy with the material. And then there was the after party and the after-after party, pillow fights, missed flights, and oh yes, oh yes, the Frisco bay.

Such an honor to spend that time with some legends of the craft and share a little in their experience by giving them a memorable and emotional presentation of the history they made 50 years ago…

 

Back to work.

 

 

 

 

 

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The world ended this year, and began again.

This morning I find myself reflecting on the grotesque splendor of 2012. It has sunk so low and soared so high that my perception of existence has shifted, and the potentialities of output and feeling and love have evolved. Its as if the last 12 months occurred only to get me to the place I am now, and that is a beautiful thing. Truth is beauty is pain is wisdom. Through it all, I remember so plainly blundering forward, putting my head down and plowing through the wreckage like a juggernaut when it would have been so easy to turn around and walk away. Three hundred and sixty five days ago I was riding a ferry through the Caribbean to a small island for a NYE event. I remember how fantastical and profound the event was, how happy the people were, and how unable I was to fully appreciate it because of the darkness lurking inside me – this can not be so in 2013, and I pledge today, Decmeber 31st, 2012, that I will let nothing stop me from living this ephemeral life to its fullest. That does not mean that I will not suffer – on the contrary, Oh the sufferings I will endure! I challenge you, neutral and inhuman world, bring your worst, carry your finest weapons to the banquet of tomorrow and I will duel you with relentless defiance to the end of days! My cup floweth over.

Cheers to you twisted world, my worthy adversary and fickle muse.

 

Words for the new year:

 

Passion

Art

Productivity

Self Worth

Power

Mindfulness

Patience

Presence

 

 

All of these will be verbs.

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Smart Went Nuts and Rode a Unicorn Through the Storm

Its on days like today that trying to force any flowerly imagery feels utterly hopeless… I’m worked, but that’s the best time to push yourself and get stronger, training 101. The last three to four weeks, while exhausting, have been more eye-opening and exhilarating than any period of my life since 2009, when things really got cooking for me in this “adventure” world. Its been a perfect blend of climbing, working, loving, traveling and growing. Spiritually, professionally… A shift in perception of whats possible, what I need to succeed, and the environment I need to cultivate in order to maintain the level of enthusiasm, inspiration and psyche that I’m currently feeling. I was fortunate enough to attend this year’s Banff Mountain Film Festival, the first annual trip there of the rest of my life. New friends, tons of ideas, and doors blown open. I got home and found a mountain of work that needed climbing and got to work, putting my head down and blundering forward. It started with a full day of shooting: in the morning, I interviewed the two remaining members of the Shanahan family. The first homesteaders in Boulder, they owned the land that hosts the Flatirons and much more, and are now selling the last vestige of their family’s royal heritage in our evolving town. After running out of gas and siphoning enough fuel from a lawn mower to get myself to Golden, I shot with Brooke Raboutou, an 11 year old girl that climbs 5.14b, for a TV show about kids who crush everything from Tennis to Med School. This was so much fun I couldn’t stop chuckling about the paycheck I was getting from Radical Media out of New York City. And today, finishing this post just in time to welcome Dave Morton and Jake Norton of Eddie Bauer/First Ascent to sit down and map out my next feature film about the first ascent of the West Ridge of Everest. Yadda yadda, green lights, CBS shoots for The Morning Show, more work than I could ever accept, and forward progress on the greatest project of all: staying open to life’s vast potential. And this could only mean one thing: its time to travel. Off to Vegas/Bishop/San Francisco/Florida/Costa Rica???/Michigan/Chile/British Columbia/and on and on and on and on… And now, photos!

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A Deal with the Devil

Last weekend Rob Frost called and asked if I wanted to head to Devil’s Tower to shoot two 75 year old men, Eric and Jeremy, climbing a summit route. Before he even told me the pay rate I was on board. The last few months have consisted primarily of desk work… the dreary and anaerobic task of editing video and photos… This summer has been the most stagnant few months since I moved to Boulder four years ago and by far the longest period of uninterrupted time I’ve spent stifled in the bubble. While its been a good opportunity to sink my roots a little deeper, being plagued by injuries and days/weeks/months in the office has been difficult for me. So I jumped at the chance to get out for a couple days of adventure in a location I’ve always wanted to explore.

 

On the drive Rob filled me in with the details of the shoot: two men from north Wales celebrating their 75th birthdays by renting Harley’s, riding to Devil’s Tower in Wyoming, and climbing the damn thing to the top. They turned out to be incredibly vital old men, with more energy and zeal than either Rob or I could muster during the two 13 hours days of shooting. They were always awake before us and always ready to burn into the late hours of the night over beers and conversation. It was incredibly inspiring. And they made the climbing look easy, despite their inexperience with what they called “American crack climbing.” As it turns out, Eric is a legendary climber, with solos of the Eiger, many expeditions to Patagonia, and innumerable ascents in the Alps to his name. But you’ve never met a more humble man.

We got to the summit, they each shed a tear at the actualization of one of their few remaining life-long dreams, and we rappelled 1,200 feet back to terra firma. I’ve wanted to stand on top of that tower ever since 2006 when I first saw it from I-90, and I couldn’t have done it with a finer team.

Back in the office today, I processed a quick assortment of photos from the trip to include in this post. The weather was perfect, the leaves were exploding, and the experience was eye opening, filming two men three times my age romp up one of the most classic tower routes in the world.

Half way up, Jeremy turned to me and said, “We’re old because we’re cautious,” and I was struck by the irony of the inverse of his statement, which would have been a far easier and conventional turn of phrase – but that’s not why they were there, half way across the world in the wide open country of the American west to push their limits and challenge the idea that human beings ever have to grow old. I realize now that Adventure (with a capital A) really is the fountain of youth.