There are fundamentally two types of climbing documentary, those that examine the history, and those that look to the future. The genre tends to alternate between homages to Edmund Hillary and his peers, and bone chilling actual footage of modern climbers attempting to reach new more extreme heights. The Sanctity of Space attempts to bridge both styles, giving us parallel stories of a pioneer of climbing, Bradford Washburn, and the modern climbers inspired by him.
A more home-grown affair than some, directors Renan Ozturk and Freddie Wilkinson are the climbers here too. Attempting to traverse a mountain range beautifully photographed by Washburn many years before. Washburn himself is given equal screen time, with historic interviews, full screen renditions of his exquisite photographs and accounts of his impressive life.
We are shown footage and photography from Washburn’s flights over the mountains, where he used an impressively huge camera; honestly, it’s a beautiful camera that any photographer will probably want on their shelf. Also the climbs he did with his wife, Barbara, who was his physical equal. Ozturk and Wilkinson nurture a relationship between the two generations of climbers, with the interviews and feats acting to show how alike they are despite their separation in time.
The Sanctity of Space leans into the act of climbing, why they love it, what drives them and the heart and community that underpins it. The fragility of their lives is shown in a way that evokes sadness rather than titillation, as they say goodbye to a number of their friends. Some through fatal accidents, and others who decide to walk away from them as an act of self-preservation. The impression is given that there is no choice for these people. Something within them forces them to keep pushing past the old records to find new, secret, challenging climbs.
Those familiar with climbing documentaries may recognise Ozturk from Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi’s predecessor to Free Solo, Meru. The Sanctity of Space sits parallel to Meru, and watched together gives an impression of how relentless their lives are. With multiple planned climbs, sponsorship deals and the constant maintenance of their social media presence being necessary to maintaining the funds they need to keep climbing.
The climb itself and the achievement of it seems less prominent than the emotional link between the people involved and the task in front of them. And while this sometimes interrupts the pacing of the piece, there is little driving the narrative forwards, it is a far warmer and more solemn film than we are used to.
The Sanctity of Space is an unusual but worthy addition to the climbing documentary genre, giving us a view of some different aspects of the life and reuniting us with some familiar faces.
The Sanctity of Space is in cinemas and on demand from March 4th.