Last Thursday, some 1,800 people came out for the premiere of the sixth annual Reel Rock Tour at the Boulder Theater in Boulder, Colorado. The tour is always popular, but this year, the atmosphere outside the premiere was more like a rock concert than a rock climbing show, complete with ticket scalpers and a round-the-block line.
This year's lineup consists of six standalone shorts on subjects ranging from ice climbing (Ice Revolution) to big walls (Race for the Nose and Project Dawn Wall). It's also the first to feature a film produced by an outside company, Cold, a raw, moody chronicle of the first winter ascent of Gasherbrum II. Notably absent is Chris Sharma, who, for the first time in Reel Rock's history, doesn't appear in any of the films.
The most memorable cut for me was Origins: Obe and Ashima. This emotionally resonant little picture follows 9-year-old bouldering phenom Ashima Shiraishi and her coach Obe Carrion, as they travel to ABS Youth Nationals and boulder at Hueco Tanks, Texas. Ashima, who's bouldered up to V11, is incredible, but the film focuses equally on Carrion, himself a climbing prodigy who burned out and abandoned the sport before rediscovering it as a teacher.
If the show has a wildcard, it's Sketchy Andy, which profiles slackline daredevil Andy Lewis. Besides featuring almost no climbing, the film spends so much of its time showing Lewis risking his life in squirm-inducing ways—setting a free-solo highline record, highlining naked, botching two BASE jumps—that it's sure to raise some viewers' hackles even as it fascinates others. Filmmaker Chuck Fryberger collaborated with Sender on this piece, and his eye for a stunning shot comes through.
With this latest tour, Sender and Big UP seem to have found the sweet spot between well-shot rock porn and History Channel documentary. If you like climbing, or even just watching climbing, it's well worth the ticket price.