“The Dawn Wall” is not just for climbers

Viewers crowd the entrance awaiting the film. 

“This has been a huge labor of love.” 

Director Josh Lowell said that this afternoon the North American premier of “The Dawn Wall”– a documentary about climber Tommy Caldwell, and his attempt to climb the Dawn Wall of El Capitan in Yosemite with his partner Kevin Jorgeson.  Filmed over the course of seven years, the documentary premiered at the Paramount in Austin during South by Southwest.

Lowell said that this film is a human story rather than a climbing story.  Lowell succeeded in this vision thanks to a comfortable cast, various points of view and the perfect amount of explanation with accompanying graphics.

The film opens with a shot of Jorgeson and Caldwell in tents on the wall, when Caldwell gets a call from a New York Times reporter who asks, “why are you doing this?”  While this conversation comes back later in the film, it is an effective opener because the film answers that question with a series of events leading up to this climb, starting with Caldwell’s early childhood.

Caldwell said that the filmmakers of “The Dawn Wall” are great friends of his; and he appears really comfortable on screen, as does Jorgeson.  The viewer gets the feeling that they’re being themselves. Watching the film feels like being on the wall with the two guys, aside from the feeling of comfort that comes with sitting in a chair in an air conditioned room.  This, combined with detailed storytelling, makes the movie feel more like a very well done feature film than a documentary.

This documentary is resourceful since it includes early interviews of Caldwell and others.  When discussing Caldwell’s time as a hostage in Kyrgyzstan, his interviews were used from the time immediately following his return to the states. This provided the viewer a chance to see Caldwell’s reaction to the event as he was telling the story and  it was fresh on his mind. The film not only exhibited a variety of ages for interviewees, it also included a variety of points of view. From friends to family members to outsiders, this variety of perspective gives the viewer a well rounded story.

The graphics in this film filled in the gaps.  The layered, moving, grayscale illustrations of the hostages in Kyrgyzstan enhanced the ominous, somber tone of the situation.  Graphics also helped explain some basics of climbing and the Dawn Wall route to viewers with no prior knowledge. This was a great added tool because it broadened the audience from climbers to everyone.  

“The Dawn Wall” includes a love story, adventure stories, comedic moments and intense moments; but ultimately this is a film about pushing past perceived limits.

The film is screening three more times this week– March 13 at 10 p.m. at Alamo Drafthouse Lamar, March 14 at 12:30 p.m. at Alamo Drafthouse Lamar and March 15 at 6 p.m. at Satellite Venue: AFS Cinema.