The Happiness Quotient

Sanctity of Space - A Conversation with Filmmakers/Professional Climbers Renan Ozturk and Freddie Wilkinson

May 11, 2022 Thom Pollard Episode 101
Sanctity of Space - A Conversation with Filmmakers/Professional Climbers Renan Ozturk and Freddie Wilkinson
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The Happiness Quotient
Sanctity of Space - A Conversation with Filmmakers/Professional Climbers Renan Ozturk and Freddie Wilkinson
May 11, 2022 Episode 101
Thom Pollard

Sanctity Of Space - A film about the alchemy of landscape and people amidst the mountains of Alaska 

A conversation with co-directors Renan Ozturk and Freddie Wilkinson about the decade long journey of creating the film, from concept to completion

US Theaters starting May 6th - Showtimes and Updates:
https://greenwichentertainment.com/film/the-sanctity-of-space/

Instagram - https://www.instagram.com/sanctityofspace/
Facebook - https://www.facebook.com/sanctityofspace

For podcast episode of this conversation on The Happiness Quotient:

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Show Notes Transcript

Sanctity Of Space - A film about the alchemy of landscape and people amidst the mountains of Alaska 

A conversation with co-directors Renan Ozturk and Freddie Wilkinson about the decade long journey of creating the film, from concept to completion

US Theaters starting May 6th - Showtimes and Updates:
https://greenwichentertainment.com/film/the-sanctity-of-space/

Instagram - https://www.instagram.com/sanctityofspace/
Facebook - https://www.facebook.com/sanctityofspace

For podcast episode of this conversation on The Happiness Quotient:

Send us a Text Message.

Support the Show.

Thom Pollard:

The following is my conversation with Freddy Wilkinson and Renan Ozturk co directors of the documentary film sanctity of space. It premieres in 13 theaters across the United States. This week, I'm honored to have these two here to talk to me at the same time, I can barely get one of them locked down, let alone two at the same time, I will be sharing with you a zoom interview that I did with them may 9 2022, about how the film came together, about their obsession with the tooth traverse in Alaska, which rises up out of the great gorge, and also of their admiration for the great Bradford Washburn, a pioneer in aerial photography. He's known as the modern day founder of the Boston Museum of Science. He mapped Everest, the Grand Canyon, and even Squam Lake here in beautiful New Hampshire. This film is a beautiful testament to the pioneers that came before us, and inspired us as Mountaineers and climbers, Renard and Freddy dropped by my cabin and Jackson, I think it was about 10 years ago to the year to look through all the photographs, letters, information and volumes of videotape recordings I had done with Bradford dating back to our 2000 expedition in Alaska together, and previously including his aerial footage, 35 millimeter film footage from National Geographic doing aerial surveys in Alaska. It's a beautiful film, a beautiful testament. And as I explained it to the two of them, it really felt like it was a film about love, about respect about the admiration not only of the mountains, but the people who inspire us to go there. And as they both said, it's truly about sharing that love of the mountains and expanding it to anyone who might be interested or curious about learning more, let's take a look of a short clip of this gorgeous teaser.

Freddie Wilkinson:

For young climbers, the big challenge is finding any blank spots that are left.

Renan Ozturk:

We're launching,

3rd Climber:

it's not just going up and getting something done. They're tying their whole life into the hole climb.

Freddie Wilkinson:

I was just looking for inspiration. I kept on circling back to the mooses tooth in Brad Washburn photos,

4th Voice:

is the greatest aerial mountain photographer of all time.

Renan Ozturk:

When you discover a big climb that's never been done. It kind of feels like falling in love.

Thom Pollard:

Before I get to the interview with Freddie and Renard, I ask that you please subscribe, wherever you're watching, whether it's on YouTube, or listening to the podcast, and share this with anybody that might be interested, and especially people that you care about. It means a lot and it helps get it out there to others who might also be interested. And now to my May 9 2022 interview with Freddie Wilkinson and Renan Ozturk, co directors of sanctity of space.

Renan Ozturk:

Go for it Freddie.

Freddie Wilkinson:

The film is so it officially released in LA in New York last Friday. Oh, gotcha. Gotcha. But now it's this Friday, it's opening in about like 15 cities

Thom Pollard:

you run on and Freddie it to get you guys in the same room, technically, is pretty awesome. I think the last time even though this is virtual. The last time we were in the same room literally together was in the early stages of sanctity of space. I think it didn't have a name yet back then. And you came up to the cabin in Jackson. And my dog was walking all over those huge prints of Brad Washburn and you went through all the tapes. So that so just memorizing that that's about 10 years ago, this project is a long time coming it's got to feel good to be here at the essentially the sunrise of of letting the world see it finally,

Freddie Wilkinson:

absolutely. It's been a bit a long journey for both of us and but good to be here.

Thom Pollard:

Yeah, well tell me about it. So if somebody had never heard about it and didn't even know who you guys were, what is this film about? I mean, we know as a climber the the mousses traverse is going to do Draw a lot of people in. But if I were to say what the subplot is, it's a lot about love and, and mountains and friendships, and the inspiration that brings one to go to those places. So if you could just tell me a little bit about it, and what inspired you to really almost, you know, kind of devote yourselves, sacrifice yourselves to seeing this thing come to reality.

Renan Ozturk:

Yeah, I mean, I, I just want to also, just thank you, Tom, because you're a huge part of this film. In so many ways. You knew Washburn, personally, and contributed footage and a lot of the ethos to this film has, has you inside it as well. So thanks. Thank you there. And I think for us like the, the quick elevator pitch of this, this film is, has to do with answering the question of why, like, why do you do these things? Why do you? Why do climbers go into the mountains and risk their lives? And it's a cheesy question. And as you know, Mallory's famous response like because it's there, this was our this was our really personal response that took us a long time to come out with that. Hopefully, the answer is, is within the alchemy of visuals and the history of Washburn. And you can kind of like get a sense of what, what it is without even without even having to answer it, because like, definitely won't be able to put it into words right now.

Thom Pollard:

Well, it's a beautiful film. And if you were just to put pretty music on in the background and watch it without even the narrative, it's a good, entertaining watch. And I will admit readily that in the last hour, I haven't been able to consume the hour and 40 minutes of it. But it's beautifully done. And Renard, I think you nailed it. It's, it's what calls us to the mountains. And a lot of it is that inspiration. And you even said, it's when you see a mountain that you want to climb, it's like falling in love. And I was like, Well, I don't think I've ever heard that before. But I knew it. The minute I heard you say it, I was like, exactly. And, and there's a passion in there to risk it all. And it comes out in this film. And so it way back, you showed me this beautiful clip, that was essentially a recreation of Bradford Washburn flying up over the Alaska range and the great gorge with his old Fairchild Camera. Can you tell me a little bit about that? And was Did you know how that was really going to be integrated into the film? Are we doing a mini vignette for that?

Freddie Wilkinson:

You know, to backtrack a little bit and, you know, kind of just underline some of the things. Renata was saying, Tom, you know, when we were pitching part of the pitch for the film was that, you know, a lot of the storytelling with mountain climbing and adventure inevitably ends up sort of spiraling around death. And these life and death stakes that engender a self seriousness that like, to me doesn't always look that good, or that interesting, as a spectator viewer audience. And as as storytellers and participants, it's like, well, let's talk about how beautiful it is not how scared we are, because we're going to the mountains, you know, we're not going at gunpoint, we're not getting drafted. We're not going there to make the world a better place, the way you know, firefighters and you know, social activists, and so many other people do in other lines of work. It's a privilege to go to the mountain. And we do it because it's stinking beautiful and special in that right. And I don't know, but somehow for me, that was just a message I wanted to try to convey.

Thom Pollard:

You did you did it. And so when of as a filmmaker, which both of you are and as a climber, how do you do that? How do you tell that story? Honestly, I mean, from a serious question. From an idea. It sounds great when you're in base camp, waiting out a storm drinking coffee, this would be great to have beautiful film on a screen in a movie See, you know, really that's where the grind comes in. That's the suffer fest right there perhaps right?

Freddie Wilkinson:

I mean, 10 years, 10 years, but it was something that, you know, it really started for us. When the climb ended. We, we, you know, as shown in the film, we got totally sucked in by the to traverse, in the course of doing it, we, we had this idea, let's try to try to capture it from the air. And, you know, now that Ron on especially is really a world famous adventure filmmaker, it seems like, you know, probably natural to some of your listeners that he would have a helicopter following him around. But 15 years ago, that wasn't the case. And you know, as a matter of fact, this was probably the first time he had ever played with helicopters, either of us had played be like, tried to do cinematography. So, you know, we had to put our own skin in the game, like we didn't have sponsor money, I think we each put up like eight or 10 grand. And we had, we did have Fernando's production company providing some some logistics support, and, you know, a producer who would kind of take calls to make us seem professional, but we basically it all came down to one day. And you know, we had a, you know, helicopter, camera attack equipment, all has to get located in Tel kitna. And, you know, we couldn't afford anymore. And so, you know, we just kind of went into this attitude, like, you know, we're just going to roll the dice and see what happens. And it just, you know, ended up that we're in the, in the midst of the first ascent on the day and the weather aligned, and all of it came together. And, you know, when we got back, we didn't know any of that was happening at the time. We were in the middle of this pretty epic climb, we saw the helicopter spinning overhead. There were some clouds kind of around us, but it was like, Oh, that's cool. Hopefully they got something and then you know, we did the climb takes a few days to pack up your base camp, get back to civilization, we get back to civilization, and they're at the airport in the air taxi office is the hard drive of the capture of from the from the helicopter that day. And I remember like plugging it into a laptop and looking at it for the first time. And being like, you know, well, all btw that's, that's pretty epic. And then like a split second later. I was like, it looks just like a brad Washburn photo. And, you know, 10 years later, here we are. But Ron has some perspective on this too, as well.

Renan Ozturk:

Yeah, meant a lot to us to like try to try to film something on an actual first ascent, you see a lot of that kind of Hollywood style filmmaking kind of all. It all comes back to your other question of like the recreations and everything like that. We just want to want it to show the range the way that Brad would and had had people understand what it was like for him back in the early days of hanging out open door of an airplane and the 50s. And we realized that we needed to, we needed to have a creative way to show that so that that shoot was pretty intentional. It was like, also very seat of our pants in terms of how it, how it came together. In terms of even even the camera used for the shoot was a was actually Brad's camera from what was the name of the museum Friday.

Freddie Wilkinson:

Museum of the North. University Alaska Fairbanks.

Renan Ozturk:

Fairbanks. Yeah, and they wouldn't. Brad had donated the camera before he died to the museum and he had asked for it back a few times. They wouldn't give it to him for some reason. We convinced them that we were going to hang it over the range one last time and give it a swan song. And yeah, it was just all those little little pieces as what it takes to like make this longer, longer film and like Freddy put in years of archival research digitizing tapes, including yours for the first time so that they could be in this format. The whole story of Lucania a lot of that stuff was digitized for the first time the shots of Brad with the sifting the mud through his hands before they take off On the mudflats using a cocktail bar as makeshift skis in the bottom of the plane with a history of Alaska aviation. So yeah, there's there's a lot of stories within within the tapestry of the of the whole film. But overall it's, it's like, I think for us it's meant to, to show why we do it and the joy and the beauty but also the spirit of exploration and, and a frame of reference around what is the spirit of exploration. And for Brad, it was the sharing of it and not just the conquering of these things. But how can future generations benefit for what he brought back and continue to inspire and use that footage for conservation or understanding? And yeah, it was really just an ODE, an ode to that exploration is sharing.

Thom Pollard:

That's fantastic. That is Brad and for sure. The sharing of it. Tell me a little bit about the mooses traverse for those who don't know, and I guess this was a Freddy secret for years and you let it slip after having a couple of beers one night with Ron on and his friends. And then this this whole legend of the mooses traverse took shape. But but it still took a few years. Can you explain that to me? And let us know what you know, give us a visual of it if you can't actually see it?

Freddie Wilkinson:

Sure, absolutely. So everybody's heard of Denali. Very few people have heard of the great gorge of the roof glacier, which is just to the south of Denali, but it's some of the most tremendous topography. In North America, if not the world. It's a much bigger Canyon than the Grand Canyon, it is the you know, the largest canyon feature in North America. And, but the bottom half of it is covered with ice, and so that you have 5000 foot big walls, dropping from glaciated summits into the glacier, but then they continue another, you know, three to 4000 feet below the surface of the glacier. And the moose is to is really more than one specific mountain like you might imagine in a picture. It's a very tangled, complicated web of peaks, that occupies one side of that gorge. And, you know, it's just a place of deep, you know, energy, not to get touchy feely, but I think lots of climbers and and pilots, all sorts of folks have been to the gorge and felt its, its majesty, and it's cold. And so yeah, the tooth traverse, you know, I had been there as a young climber, renowned Zach and I all three of us kind of migrate, you know, found the gorge separately in our early 20s. And, as we we, you know, made our way through through climbing and we kind of started to get to know each other a little bit, kind of climb together separately. And yeah, I'm, I've never been good at keeping my mouth shut about projects. I would love to say that it's completely born of this altruistic, you know, desire to share, as we sort of expressed in the film, but it's probably just because I got a loose mouth and I like to talk and jaw and you know, so I'm like, here's what I'm thinking about. And, you know, such was the case one night in Boulder. I think it was 2009 when I was there visiting, staying with Ron and Zach's house, and I knew they had a trip plan to Alaska. And it was like, Oh, you gotta you gotta try this thing.

Thom Pollard:

So one thing, the scene that I really love in this is, is that the reality of life kind of hits. And so Zack, who was supposed to be with you, basically, it kind of got a job and just said, Dude, my life needs to move forward and in in this trajectory right now. So maybe regrettably, you guys went off to do it. And I felt like there's something very poignant in that because we are very privileged to be able to go off on adventures like this. And and we risk and spend so much time and money as well. Got to do these things. Usually, at least the people that I've spent my time with, fully aware that this is not normal. And we've and we are, there's a lot of humility. And you guys, you are two examples of humble people, we have to have big enough egos to go after crap like that. But But reality sets in and you got to work, right? So there's that shot of him wrapping the Christmas lights around taking them down from a house or putting them up. And it was like, whoa. So if you can just comment about like that, I love that scene I just knocked me over every time.

Renan Ozturk:

I'm glad that you picked up on that, because that was a big sub story. For us as Zach was such a, he's such a purist. And as you as you learn more and more about, about climbers, and people who go after these mountains, there's, there's like kind of different forms of it. There's like the Washburn's who are like professionals. And they're getting big sponsors like National Geographic and things like, like some of the biggest publications on Earth supporting these things. And that comes with a price of like, what you're what you're delivering and sharing from that. And then there's some climbers who don't have that self promotional bone in their body, and they just want to do it for the complete purity of the experience. And they separate those two lives. And that was Zach. And we really wanted to, to lay that bare and not try to hide, hide what that is, so people can can see the realities of it. And, yeah, kind of, we still have a great relationship with Zach. And the irony of it all is that we suffered for years and basically went into debt trying to make the film while while his you know, Christmas light business ended up exploding and he was doing these massive jobs basically retired now like, he's like a billionaire. That yeah, just kidding on the billionaire part. But you know, he's, he just done like super well. And he's, he's found his own path in the mountains. And, and we've, for a lot of times, we wanted to make the film more about about him, and we thought he was a stronger character to drive it. And there's, there's a lot of paths you go down making a film. But in the end, Zack played a really important role, not only in climbing the mountain, but also like giving that counterpoint to what what is adventure, what is meaning in the mountains, and it's different for different people. Obviously, for us, it was more of a Washburn style, where we just love the creative aspect. And it's hard to separate the creative aspect from the climate self, but it's not for everyone.

Thom Pollard:

Thank you. That's a great explanation and follow up to my question if it even was a question, but so let's just talk about Brad Washburn real quick. So I'll do an introduction to this interview. But, but for those listening, Brad is credited as the modern day founder of the Boston Museum of Science who also happen to do 13 first ascents in Alaska. And Ansel Adams called him the great aerial photographer, the great mountain for aerial photographer of mountains perhaps and, and so Brad passed away in oh seven at 96. So we're looking at his first National Geographic adventurer, sponsored sponsored expedition to do aerials, I think in 1936. So we're talking almost 100 years ago, and Brad was truly breaking ground. And as you said, he his driving force was to share the knowledge that he gained by being in the mountains, encouraging people to go to the mountains. And one little thing to add in that of all the great accomplishments of Brad's life to a tee every single time you ask them, what's the greatest accomplishment in your life and he's always would say, number one, I married Barbara. Always 100% of the time, never. That was number one. Everything else came after. So with that said, that's a pretty big inspiration. He inspired a lot of people and you are making him you know, another Iraq God, if you will, in terms of how you're paying homage to Uh, so if you could just talk a little bit about Brad.

Freddie Wilkinson:

Yeah, sure. I mean, he's his, it's an honor to, you know, get to make a film about him and, you know, getting to explore his network. All the places he left his his fingerprints is it's just fascinating and really pulled me in and, you know, it's really how I connected with you, I think. You know, you'll probably say this in the intro, but Tom was kind of Washburn's first documentarian. You know, in a way back when he was still alive, you shot with him quite extensively and did a trip to Alaska with him. And, and your footage is, is heavily featured in our film, really, so, so thank you for all that. Yeah, huge, you know, so how we made a movie about Washburn was just, you know, standing on the shoulders of everybody who, you know, he had inspired and connected with, and, you know, we have astronauts and, you know, fine art photographers, supporting voices in the film writers. David. Yeah. David Roberts. And great, great mountaineering and adventure writer. And a lot of a lot of neat people. So, yeah, although I never had a chance to meet him, you know, myself. I always I liken him to sort of a real life Indiana Jones figure, because he had the Boston Museum of Science who was his day job, he wore a suit and tie and, you know, shook hands with important people. And, and then on the weekend, he put on his fedora, and go hang out the door of an airplane. And, and, you know, I mean, growing up as a kid, I loved Indiana Jones.

Thom Pollard:

It's a natural run on so in terms of the Washburn connection he was he was truly remarkable person of that generation. And I know we're friends and everything but but you I look at you as like, you're, you're the modern day, you know, have the eye and have that that artistic photographer and filmmaker that probably Brad would have liked to be in terms of the pictures and images that you've created. you've flown drones and done dramatic time lapses up to the summit of Mount Everest from many 1000s of feet below. So in terms of the beautiful things you've created with Freddy as your partner in this Gosh, man, you're you're doing someone like Brad Washburn a heck of a lot of justice, and I'm sure his family and relatives are just gonna gush over this.

Renan Ozturk:

Yeah, it's crazy. Spirit of Washburn is strong. We I never met him personally, either, but yeah, so he's so so ahead of his time and his, you know, those, those giant eight by 10 negatives are gonna stand the test of time. There's still not a lot of modern cameras that that can touch it. And it's yeah, it's it's going to remain inspiration for like a lot of generations to come.

Thom Pollard:

So I know you guys both have to go in a short bit so let let me ask you and I'll hopefully do justice to introducing the film. You guys pursued this career hard and you paid the price along the way wasn't always not that you know, it's all you know, glory and red carpet or anything, even though we look forward to the red carpet of this film, but you pay the price because you believe so strongly in what you want to do in your life. This is about pursuing and going after what you truly love and what's in your heart and you're not willing to do anything other than that despite if you will the collateral damage of going after it a lot of couches a lot a lot of tuna casserole for dinner and, and things like that. So am I am I on target with that? Have you guys truly like you really do epitomize people just believing in in ones, if you will, directive and doing it no matter what.

Freddie Wilkinson:

I say it all. Thank you, I think Could we, you know, it feels more like it, you know, it was just this this creative process that we started without really knowing what we're getting into, you know, with this one, and you know, it got kind of felt like it kept getting harder and harder the closer we got, I think, and but it also, you know, there's something that I think was nice and that, you know, if we had taken, say that proverbial, you know, check from a sponsor six years ago, or eight years ago and finish the movie real quick. You know, I'm not I'm not sure if it would have, you know, had the time to kind of marinate and, and, you know, get to where it is,

Thom Pollard:

or not, yeah, yes, there was some thick and thick times as Freddy was just referring to, right.

Renan Ozturk:

Yeah, no, it definitely almost fell apart multiple times. And it was it was not easy to have this passion project is always in the background, trying to figure out how to move it along. You know, it was I yeah, I don't think a lot of people realize just the, how a lot some of these documentaries that you see, maybe they're funded from the beginning, and that's your full time job. But Freddie and I both had multiple other full time jobs. And Friday, we're starting a family with two little ones. And it's a lot to bring a feature documentary to fruition. But yeah, I think it's it is like, this is the moment where it all it all kind of coalesces, and you finally have people like yourself, getting to see it, and then then like mainstream, things like the New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal and The Guardian are reviewing it, which is just surreal. And the way that it seems like all the audiences, everyone that's watched, it picks up on on something different. And we think that we think that this is going to be a meaningful contribution in the tapestry of all these different powerful climbing films and exploration films in its own way. And hopefully it will have this like long slow burn that kind of lasts, and does justice to like that question that we were talking about, like, what's the meaning to it all and, and even the context of the last few years as how exploration has changed. And now both Freddie and myself and all of us as a community, we're like, oh, it's it's about way more than just ourselves and these kind of white guy explorations, these privileged white guy explorations and what can we do in the future and we hope that some of this footage can be used for conservation purposes and continue to be used by Denali National Park for education and yeah, there's, there's a lot a lot there that hopefully will will live on, beyond just the adventure of the tooth traverse. That's all tied into the ethos of of Washburn from the beginning.

Thom Pollard:

Freddie Renard, thank you for taking the time to tell us about your film. In the liner notes of this video or podcast episode will be links to where you can find out more about sanctity of space on their Facebook page on a landing page for their website and also theaters where you might be able to go see it yourself. Thank you for visiting the happiness quotient. I will see you all real soon.