The film, predicted to scoop a host of awards at film festivals around the world, tells the story of a climber who seeks adventure over publicity, with a pure approach to climbing that sees him put up some of the boldest solo ascents in history. With no cameras, no rope and no margin for error, Leclerc’s approach is the essence of solo adventure.
When Mortimer and Rosen began to work on The Alpinist, the plan was to follow Leclerc on his adventures and see where they ended up. That was easier said than done: Leclerc would sometimes ‘forget’ to tell the filmmakers where he was heading. As Leclerc comments in the film, “It wouldn’t be a solo for me if somebody was there. It wouldn’t even be remotely close to the adventure I was looking for.”
Comparisons with Free Solo – about climbing superstar Alex Honnold’s rope-free climb of Yosemite’s El Capitan – are inevitable. However, The Alpinist is much more than Free Solo with snow and ice. For a start, the characters are very different; while Honnold was already one of the most revered figures in climbing even before Free Solo, the gawky, camera-shy Leclerc was largely unknown outside of the climbing community of Squamish, British Columbia.
And there is another crucial difference between the two films. In March 2018, as filming neared completion, Mortimer and Rosen received news that Leclerc had gone missing while climbing in Alaska with a local man named Ryan Johnson. In a moment, the film switches from a celebration of adventure to a devastating reminder of the risks attached.
The bodies of Leclerc and Johnson were never found, only a length of rope sticking out from a pile of heavy snow following what was presumed to be a huge avalanche.
Having had time to take stock, all those involved agreed to continue with the film. The filmmakers did two more interviews – with Brette Harrington, Leclerc’s girlfriend and herself an elite climber, and Leclerc’s mother, Michelle Kuipers – to include layers of grief that add a searing honesty to the film.
The Alpinist screens at the Eastgate Theatre at 7pm, Thurs 28 Oct. Tickets £15, £25 adult and under 16, available from Box Office on 01721 725777, or online.