Psychovertical: The movieInspiration
As a Kickstarter campaign has been launched to make Andy Kirkpatrick’s Tasker-Boardman prize-winning book Psychovertical into a film, we catch up with filmmaker Jen Randall and Andy himself about the project, what we can expect to see and what drives him
Psychovertical changed the way people looked at climbing writing and literature – what do you think it was about the book that caused such a stir?
Andy Kirkpatrick: Someone once said that Psychovertical was the best book he’d read, to which I replied ‘you need to read more books’. So I’d say that there are tons of better climbing books out there, and that maybe it works because it’s written by someone who can’t write for people who don’t read! I guess I did write a book that seems to have some sustain though, and even after all these years someone probably brings it up once a week, and I think what has made it endure is its honesty.
Jen: I read Psychovertical long before I met Andy, and fell in love with the book right away because it felt raw and real and as though the author was grappling with himself and making sense of his life right there in those pages, without knowing the answers he was looking for yet. That was new to me, and although I never dreamed of turning it into a film, when Andy suggested it I knew in a second it was an opportunity I couldn’t let slip.
What is the common thread with the expeditions and climbs you choose?
Andy: I think I’m anti social and follow Stalin’s dictum of ‘No people, no problem’ so like very small teams (ideally only one), in places where you won’t meet anyone. This tends to be in remote places, and in winter (to make doubly sure), and I’ve done trips to Patagonia (Chile and Argentina), Alaska, Greenland, Antarctica (we actually bumped into quite a few people on the Greenland ice cap, so remoteness is never assured). If I can’t do remote then I’ll get up on a big wall and stay up there as long as possible (these days it’s all about who’s fastest but I’m more interested in being the slowest).
As well as the physical feat, what is the emotional impact of the climbs you choose – is this aspect as, or more, important as the physical challenge?
Andy: The emotional impact of climbs begins the moment you begin to think towards that climb, and can have a very divisive impact on you the climber, and you the real person in this world. Such a climb gets under your skin and it can be all you ever think about, often the actual act one of relief. The mental burden before the climb is like knowing you’ve signed up for a cage fight in a month’s time, while the climb itself is more like the fight itself, the mental burden (fear, anxiety, caution) is more short term – second to second. This pre-climb burden is something I try and avoid by avoiding long-term big projects, and focus on ‘lets go!’ style projects.
You talk about your past in the book – how do you think this manifests itself in your climbing?
Andy: Peter Hitchens says that a country is the sum of its memories, and so are we, and everything I do is based on the foundations of life.
Why did now seem like a good chance to create a film around the book?
Andy: This has been on and off for a long time and with a lot of filmmakers (I’ve shot quite a lot of talking head stuff in the past, but no action stuff), but it was only seeing Jen’s film that I thought we could pull it off. I’m more of a show-don’t-tell person, and I think this will work well with Jen, who’s very cinematically literate, and also brave in that she gives a story room to have its own life, not script it to death. She’s also a big wall climber and so get’s a lot of what the story is about (I first met Jen in Yosemite and helped to get her motivated to go back and try El Cap after multiple mini disasters).
Jen: Andy approached me with the idea for this project in 2014. I had three films in the Kendal Mountain Festival that year and he was a judge so he had to watch them all – I guess he liked them – and thought of me for Psychovertical. Since then I’ve been quietly developing the idea, bouncing ideas off Andy, extracting quotes from the book, working on themes to explore, creating long treatments and pitches to try and attract funders and hone in on the film we want to make…. Now is the time for me for a few reasons: because I feel like I’m ready as a filmmaker to take this big step; because there is an appetite out there for adventure films that go deeper than a particular adventure; because after a lot of time and work I’ve managed to find a bit of funding to get us started from companies who have had faith in us from a really early stage – BMC TV, Montane and Lyon Equipment.
What can people expect from the film?
Andy: I think the film will be very honest, raw, and ‘off message’ of most such films, where you get these elements but they’re often scripted, I.e. ‘I lost my climbing partner two years ago…’ blah blah, like an X-Factor interview. This film will share quite a lot, but it will be brutal, not looking for sympathy. It will also be scary and funny.
Jen: An audience can expect a lot from this film – I have high expectations! The through-line of the film will be some intense big wall climbing and raw experiences of what soloing a big wall is really like. Woven into this will be funny, moving, honest and real explorations into Andy’s past. It’s going to be a film about obsession, ambition, love, confusion and growing. So good!
El Capitan is one of the walls that you keep returning to – what makes it so appealing?
Andy: Every year I think, that’s it I’m not going back, but after 30 ascents I still am. If you’ve seen El Cap it’ll seem like a daft question, like ‘why keep swimming in the sea?’ or ‘why keep walking in the Lakes?’. El Cap is one of the wonders of the world, in fact it’s a world all of its own up there, so much of it holding mystery and memory.
Away from the film, what other big trips or projects do you have coming up?
Andy: I’m hoping to go back to the North Face of the Eiger this winter to have another go on the Eiger Direct with some other climbers, and getting married in Easter, then have a year climbing in the US as a honeymoon (I’ve never been a true dirtbag!)
How can people help make this a reality?
Andy: If people want to support the project then visit our Kickstarter page at https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1558582611/psycho-vertical and get involved.
Jen: To be totally honest, right now the entire project rests on gaining people’s support through our Kickstarter campaign. Donations of every size are massively appreciated, and our sponsors, as well as Andy and I, have provided some wicked rewards to say thank you for getting involved. It will be running until July 28th and filming starts shortly after that. I’m new to the crowdfunding game, but even with our progress so far this project feels like a real team effort.