The Art Of Climbing Film: Interview With Filmmaker Jen Randall

About The Art Of Climbing Film & Interview With Filmmaker Jen Randall. We were impressed by the trailer for Jen Randall’s Push It (above) well before its full-length release and knew when we started Crux Crush that she was someone we needed to connect with. At her film and photography company Light Shed Pictures, Jen manages to make beautiful and thoughtful films without an ounce of pretension.

Her editing, subject, and audio choices create a meaningful experience for the viewer, that leave you feeling like you know the climber, the location, and Jen herself. Push It, Jen’s largest self-directed and produced film to date, is a 30-minute climbing film featuring Jen’s own journey up El Capitan and short bios of several female climbers. Check out the most important 5 things about climbing I wish I knew 5 years ago!

“The goal of the project was unwavering: I wanted Push It to spread the psych.”

Shorts About “The Art Of Climbing Film”

The film is a finalist at The Banff Mountain Film Festival this year and is now available to buy or rent online (enter code CRUX13 for 20% off too!). This Vancouver-born and Scotland-raised 29-year-old is currently traveling around Europe in a camper with her new husband (congrats Jen!), making short films about European climbing destinations for Epic TV. We told you she was rad. Read on for our full interview with the super talented, Jen Randall.

The Interview With Filmmaker Jen Randall

CXC: Tell us a little about your history with climbing and with film.  

JR: I had my first climbing experience with my dad who has always loved the mountains. We went to a little crag in Scotland on a very windy day. I was nine and gave Dad a waist belay while he climbed a route and fixed a top rope… it was terrifying and, although we went hill walking a lot together over the years, it wasn’t until I was 18 that he took me climbing indoors for the first time that I got totally hooked. I got my first pair of shoes for my 19th birthday, made friends with climbers at university and nothing has been the same since.

Film-wise, I wiggled my way into Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design in Dundee and studied Time Based Art, which for me meant video and photography. It was a lot of fun, very open, you could pretty much do what you wanted with a little bit of guidance and explore what kind of work you were interested in making. After those four years I took a spot at Vancouver Film School to study Film Production for one year.

It was the polar opposite of art school – very intense, fast-paced, competitive, regimented and restrictive, although in many ways that was all good for me. I didn’t enjoy it much but I learned what I went there to learn and had a clearer idea of what I wanted to do afterward – run away in a van and claim some freedom back for a few months!

The Art Of Climbing Film: Interview With Filmmaker Jen Randall

Push It, released 2012

CXC: What were your goals in creating Push It? 

JR: Push It changed all the time, but I think it’s safe to say the goal of the project was unwavering: I wanted Push It to spread the psych. I think a lot of women underestimate their capabilities, myself included, and I wanted to be part of changing that.

CXC: Here at Crux Crush we definitely find ourselves more motivated to climb hard and try new types of climbing because of the site. In Push It, you and your climbing partner, Jackie, attempt to climb El Cap. How much was this motivated by making the film? 

JR: At first I didn’t want to make a film out of our attempt on El Cap. I knew it would take 100% of everything we had just to survive and we were scared because it was a totally new, committing experience for both of us. But then I realized that’s what would make it a great story to share – everyone loves an underdog!

When Jackie and I got to Yosemite and realized we’d bitten off more than we could chew, the film was definitely on my mind, but I quickly came to terms with the fact that our story was going to end in comical, epic failure. That’s life, and it was kind of funny. But it was only once we accepted the possibility of failure that tackling El Cap became possible again in a funny way.

Realizing we were going home empty-handed made us see how badly we wanted to do it, so we reassessed our options and worked out how to make it happen, and of course that was good for the film. It also turned out that the route we attempted – Triple Direct – had the first ever all female ascent on El Capitan in the 70s, which was the cherry on top really.

I wouldn’t say making the film pushed us onwards though, we felt way too out of our depth to let making a movie encourage us into a dangerous situation. I guess when you make documentaries you get used to going with the flow – sometimes things go just as you hope they will, sometimes they do the opposite. I try to be careful as a filmmaker not to pressure people into doing things, I’d rather capture life unfold as though I wasn’t there, and this project was no exception. I do hope the film motivates others though, that’s the real aim.


Jen and her haul bag (aka the Motherload) in Camp 4, Yosemite.

CXC: Push It also features a number of other female climbers. How do you choose your subjects?  

JR: With Push It I’d say I chose my subjects because they were all so different to each other but had this one thing in common – climbing really, really well. Vicki is a totally unknown quantity who went from climbing HVS (5.9 trad) to on-sighting E4 (11c trad) in one season, and her laid back, unbridled psych is totally infectious so I wanted to share that. Natalie Berry is this softly spoken, polite, unassuming young woman who seemingly floats up whatever climb you put in front of her, but underneath has a very steely ambition and determination which I just think is great.

And Mina is a well spoken, cheerful, intelligent woman who trains harder than anyone from what I’ve seen and heard. She puts her heart and soul into every move on every route and as a result gets up things I never thought possible, which was exciting to see coming from a person who is a similar size and age and the same gender as me – it made me think ‘I can climb harder!’ which is an exciting feeling. So I guess it’s about the combination of characteristics that make up a personality rather than particular characteristics I look for.

CXC: Your visual aesthetic, editing, and sound design come together to create an intimate and personal experience for the viewer. Why do you think it’s important to create this experience, especially in a climbing film?

JR: I think creating an all-round experience is important for any film. As a filmmaker you are trying to immerse your audience in a story, hoping they’re going to quickly start caring about who or what or where you’re talking about. So every element of the film is vital – if the editing is off then your viewer will very quickly be jolted out of your story, same with sound or music or the quality of the shots themselves. It’s all tied together. Saying that I’m always aware of the mistakes I’ve made while shooting or whatnot, but hope that as a package the ‘spirit’ or personality of the film will outweigh the mistakes.

I’ve always tried to make very personal work because it’s more enjoyable to make and I believe more interesting to watch. People can tell when a filmmaker or photographer puts a piece of themselves into their work, and I really like that, it means more. Plus there are so many climbing films out there, you’ve got to find your voice and a way to make your film a little different somehow.


Jen’s visual aesthetic and attention to detail come across in her photography as well.

CXC: In addition to the aesthetic aspects of your films, you’re very successful at communicating who the climber is and the emotions they’re experiencing. Why do you think it’s important to show the subtleties and emotional side of climbing? 

JR: Though my films to date are about climbing, at the end of the day I aim to tell human stories, they just happen to revolve around climbing because I enjoy climbing so much. I think it’s important to catch the subtleties of a climber’s emotions and character because, just like I find climbing interesting, I also find the people doing the climbing interesting. How someone feels or what a person is going through is something we can all relate to, so really that’s where a story lies. Showing how insanely strong some one is might only be impressive for a moment, or to climbers specifically.

I don’t know if my interest in this comes from the fact that, as a climber, I experience a lot of mixed emotions when I’m climbing and wonder if other people do too, or if it’s because I’m not that strong so I find demonstrations of pure strength for more than a minute or two a bit mind-numbing. At the end of the day, I love to see people try hard and send hard, but I think it’s even better when you get to see the behind-the-scenes stuff they put into those sends. Human struggle!

CXC: What are some of your favorite films (not necessarily climbing films)? 

JR: You know what I’m just going to say it. I like big, romantic, historical films, there! The Last of the Mohicans is my all time favourite and I really enjoyed the recent version of Anna Karenina with the moving theatre sets and choreography, and the 14 year old me was blown away by Titanic… But to regain a bit of cool, I love The Royal Tenenbaums by Wes Anderson, he has such a quiet humor running through all his films, it’s great.

Documentaries like Last Days with Oden, The Dark Side of the Lens, Sweethearts of the Prison Rodeo, Catfish… there are so many beautiful documentaries out there about totally random topics, it’s great. Sometimes it’s a story, sometimes the technical genius of a film wins me over. I think if a film moves you, it’s something special.

In terms of climbing films, I’ve watched First Ascent by Sender Films over and over because it has such a great story at the heart of it, and I think The Asgard Project by Posing Productions was awesome too, not just because I got to help with it but because the central characters laugh at themselves and their absurd predicaments all the way through, that was something I hadn’t really seen before in a climbing film.


Video still from Project Mina of Mina Leslie-Wujastyk climbing Pendragon (8a) in Rocklands.

CXC: What are the goals of your current project with Mina Leslie-Wujastyk and when are you hoping to release it?

JR: After meeting Mina and filming with her for Push It, the idea for Project Mina started growing in my brain. I had so many questions – how do you get that good, how do you try so hard all of the time, how do you train, are you just talented, how much work do you put in, what do you eat, do you always send all of the time, how does it feel if things go wrong, how do you stay motivated…

I guess as an average climber I’ve always wondered what I’d have to do to be as good as a professional, and I figure I’m not alone in wondering that, so this project aims to answer some of those questions. It’s a project I decided to take my time with thanks to the support of The Climbing Academy and The BMC [British Mountaineering Council], and it’s been so rewarding to work on – in a nutshell, I can tell you that to get as strong as some one like Mina you have to work way, way harder than most of us are prepared to.

Mina is a person who is totally in love with climbing and has the guts to dedicate her life to it.

I find that admirable and inspiring, and I think it’s a bold a refreshing move on her part to put herself out there in this way. It ain’t all easy at the top, that’s for sure, and I’m excited to make a climbing film that shows the lows as well as the highs and all the bits in between. We finish filming in December and will be releasing Project Mina in summer 2014. I can’t wait!

We can’t wait either! Thank you so much to Jen for taking the time to chat with us, it was truly a pleasure getting to know more about you. To learn more about Jen visit the Light Shed Pictures blog and read about her and her husband’s climbing adventures here. Don’t forget to buy or rent Push It and check out her work for Epic TV

Climb on!

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