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The Documentaries We’re Most Excited About This Winter
Prepare for lots of screaming (most of it from Adam Ondra)
This winter, we’re watching films that follow the underdogs of cycling and the decidedly not underdogs of surfing, swimming, and climbing.
Age of Ondra
What would we do without the agonized screams of Adam Ondra? Well, we would probably still be thrilled watching the game-changing climber’s ambitious projects. Age of Ondra follows him on two such attempts that would be ridiculous for pretty much anyone else: attempting to climb a 5.15d in Norway that he calls Silence, and then attempting to flash a 5.15, which means sending it on the first try. The 25-year-old Ondra is currently the best climber in the world, and he is ridiculously disciplined. His preparation includes training with a ballet instructor, recreating the route in his home climbing gym, and pretending to climb the route in such precise imagined detail that he even screams when he imagines the crux. The takeaway: It takes a lot to be Adam Ondra, but we are fascinated that a human like him exists at all. Currently playing in the Reel Rock 13 tour.
As if being an accomplished open-water swimmer weren’t intense enough, in 2015 Kim Chambers decided to try a 30-mile swim from the Farallon Islands to San Francisco—straight through what is known as the Red Triangle of great white shark attacks. Just think about that as you watch the opening of Kim Swims, with soothing piano music playing while Kim quietly splashes in the pitch dark. “I’m prepared to take a bit of a beating,” Chambers says in a massive understatement that neatly sums up her laid-back attitude about the swim, which she was the first woman to finish. The film spends plenty of time showing just how much of a toll the ocean takes on Chambers, including horrifying numbers of jellyfish stings and at least one near-death experience. Joining her in the icy waters of Northern California for the film’s culmination is terrifying and exhilarating. Now streaming.
It’s either crazy or endearing that cycling has multiple terms for teammates whose job is to have no desire to win. Wonderful Losers makes a case for the latter. The 2017 Lithuanian film, released in English in October, pays tribute to the domestiques of the Giro d’Italia. Despite his film’s name, director Arunas Matelis isn’t breathless or eager to glorify the men who help deliver food or block opposing teams’ attacks on top riders. He’s most interested in the grind of the support rider, with behind-the-scenes footage of like-clockwork water handoffs, physical therapy sessions with injured and achy riders, and many, many crashes. The interviews with domestiques are relaxed—“They should give me a mention!” one jokes, clearly not expecting a mention ever in his life. Cut between footage of chaotic bike pileups, they offer moments of calm, which is how the star racers they’re supporting must feel about them too. Check here for upcoming screenings.
Queen Maud Land
We’re like Pavlov’s dog when we hear that Cedar Wright and Alex Honnold have teamed up on a film—immediately, unquestioningly excited. And now that they’ve made one with Anna Pfaff, Savannah Cummins, Jimmy Chin, and Conrad Anker in Antarctica? Give it to us immediately! The title refers to a region on the loneliest continent that happens to be filled with extremely remote climbing. The crew pairs off to tackle this wilderness in three unique ways: Anker and Chin tackle 3,600-foot Ulvetanna in serious explorer fashion. Cummins and Pfaff are here to be as chill as one can be among icy spires, climbing 5.funs on Holtanna Peak. Cedar and Honnold bag as many spires as possible in a reliably goofy sufferfest. For climbers already fond of these athletes’ screen presence and skill, this film is like a frozen box of chocolates. Currently playing in the Reel Rock 13 tour
Can’t Steal Our Vibe
Never underestimate the power of surfing. That’s the lesson inherent in Can’t Steal Our Vibe, the new documentary about a surfboard drive benefiting Waves for Change, a nonprofit that provides surf therapy to local South African kids. More than just being fun, the surf lessons provide an escape from the hardships of their everyday life. In the film, Cape Town native and pro tour member Michael February teams up with American pros Patrick, Tanner, and Dane Gudauskas to collect more than 700 boards for Waves for Change. The full movie is available on iTunes ($6) and all proceeds will be donated to Waves for Change.
What kind of person commits to the high-stakes job of wildland firefighting? Wildland provides one all-male crew’s worth of answers. Some have struggled with drugs or anger or the law. Others are looking for adventure or purpose. All gather to train in Grants Pass, Oregon—including the filmmakers, Alex Jablonski and Kahlil Hudson, who trained alongside the crew for two seasons. That’s why the film’s intimacy doesn’t feel faked—the interviews feel as if they’re between old friends, we spend a lot of downtime with the crew, and we even watch them doze off during orientation talks. Wildland firefighting already lends itself to drama, and this film delivers with sweeping shots of smoking forests and soul-searching conversations. But it’s most remarkable for how quietly observant it is. Find a screening here.
The competitive world of surfing that we know and worship today started in the 1990s on the north shore of Oahu, Hawaii. HBO Films’ Momentum Generation tells a more complete story of the group of mostly blond teens who made the sport what it is now. You might recognize a few of them—ever heard of Kelly Slater or Shane Dorian? Filmmakers Jeff and Michael Zimbalist gathered the core group to provide talking heads and archive footage, and the result is just about the most insider view possible of how the sport’s culture changed over three decades. Prepare for lots of throwback-quality footage, wipeouts, fights, tears, and very good surfing. Premiering December 11 on HBO.