BY JENNIFER PEEDOM, MOUNTAIN DIRECTOR
A unique cinematic and musical collaboration between the Australian Chamber Orchestra and BAFTA-nominated director Jennifer Peedom, MOUNTAIN is a dazzling exploration of our obsession with mountains. The documentary, screening theatrically in Australia from September 21, shows us the spellbinding force of high places – and their ongoing power to shape our lives and our dreams.
Jennifer and ACO artistic director Richard Tognetti drove this international collaboration that also involved US cinematographer Renan Ozturk, British writer Robert Macfarlane and American actor Willem Dafoe. The soundtrack features music by Chopin, Grieg, Vivaldi, Beethoven and new works by Tognetti. “Putting visuals with music can elevate music,” Tognetti says. “It’s what happens at the opera. You end up listening more with your eyes and seeing more with your ears.”
When Richard Tognetti of the Australian Chamber Orchestra approached me to collaborate on this project, I said ‘yes’ straightaway for three reasons.
Firstly, I knew the Australia Chamber Orchestra was an absolutely world class orchestra because I’d been to many of their concerts. I played violin until the end of high school, so I have some classical music training and a love of classical music. So the opportunity to work with the ACO was an opportunity I wasn’t going to pass up.
Secondly, it felt like a unique creative opportunity. Collaborating with an orchestra was always going to produce a very different kind of film, and I was interested in that as a creative challenge. Filmmaking is always about collaboration but I knew in this case, the collaboration was the most important aspect of the project. That idea was exciting.
I certainly had to flex my creative muscles in a very different way. Working with classical music presented a whole new set of creative constraints that we had to work through. But we approached these constraints as a jigsaw puzzle. It wasn’t always easy, but the result truly speaks to the trust and mutual respect of that collaboration.
The third reason I got involved was because, despite all of the films that I’d made on mountains and about adventurers, I still felt that I had something to say – there were ideas that I still wanted to express. There’s a line in the film: “To those who are enthralled by mountains, their wonder is beyond all dispute. To those who are not, their allure is a kind of madness”. I was really interested in exploring the space between those two points of view and how significantly our feelings towards mountains have changed in such a relatively short period of time.
Bringing Robert Macfarlane into the mix was an essential part of that collaboration. His book Mountains of the Mind explored many of the ideas I wanted to express, so I approached him to write a very sparse, poetic narration script. Without Robert’s beautiful words, I wouldn’t have been able to say what I wanted to say in this film. His script is breathtaking.
This project would not have happened without our principal cinematographer Renan Ozturk from Camp4 Collective, who I had worked with on my 2015 film Sherpa. A true mountaineer, whose images are utterly poetic. He was the third collaborator in this marriage of music, words and picture. He introduced me to a number of other cinematographers, whose images helped give us the vast international scope of this film.
Many of the images have been captured under the most extreme circumstances on the highest and most unforgiving mountains in the world using all sorts of new technology, including drones. So a big shout out to our Renan and also to the team at Sherpas Cinema and all the cinematographers who worked so hard to capture these extraordinary images.
Each of us brought our own ideas to MOUNTAIN, and it really was like a masterclass in collaboration. Each us raised the bar, inspiring the others to do the same. The result is a testament to that alchemy. It has been one of the most challenging, but enriching projects of my career.
I hope that the experience of seeing, and hearing, MOUNTAIN will be a very moving, dare I say transcendental experience!
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Images supplied. Credit Mark Rogers/Madman. Double passes courtesy Madman and available at most major cinemas – full details on the reverse side of your double pass.