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The Last Tepui

The Last Tepui

An Interview with Taylor Rees

In The Last Tepui, streaming on Disney+, Alex Honnold delivers legendary biologist Bruce Means to the top of a tepui, via a first ascent on a 1,000ft wall. Sidetracked interviews filmmaker and director Taylor Rees.

The Disney+ Earth Day special Explorer: The Last Tepui, from National Geographic, follows elite climber Alex Honnold and a world-class climbing team, led Mark Synnott, on a mission to attempt a first ascent of a sheer 1,000ft cliff. Their goal is to deliver legendary biologist Bruce Means to the top of a tepui. The team must first trek through miles of jungle to help Dr Means to complete his life’s work: searching the cliff wall for undiscovered animal species.

The documentary is directed by Taylor Rees. As a documentary director and cinematographer, Taylor is driven by an insatiable curiosity to explore, and to tell the stories beneath the surface. Infusing her passion for adventure into her work, around environmental and humanitarian issues, Rees brings new perspectives and deeper public understanding to the complexities of climate change, biodiversity, conservation, human rights, and environmental justice. We briefly caught with Taylor prior to release of the film.

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Sidetracked: The tepuis are notoriously isolated in the south of Venezuela, and the approach can be just as onerous as the climb itself. How did you manage this with a film crew?
Taylor: We had to access La Gran Sabana via Guyana, as we couldn’t travel directly into Venezuela and get all of the appropriate filming permissions, and everything necessary to bring a large foreign crew in. The approach ended up being my favourite part – we went up river through the Orinoco, passing so many different ecosystems along the way. We visited the villages on the shorelines, meeting the indigenous communities. My interactions with those indigenous people were the most meaningful part of the project for me.

The premise of the film is so much about combining elite climbers with science – how did this interaction help the documentary?
Bruce Means has been studying the area for 30 years.In all of that time, he’s been on top of the tepuis frequently but never on the wall – which is an ecological transition zone. This was probably going to be his last expedition, so it was really meaningful to him to do this elevational transect. He needed the professional climbers to facilitate his study.

What do extreme adventures mean to you?
Any time we are in an extreme survival environment, we learn so much about who we are as ecological beings – as wild animals who have basic needs. I love pushing myself in difficult situations and environments.

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Conservation is a global issue, managed by sovereign countries. What did your time in Venezuela teach you about our future and how we protect wildlife and nature?
The pandemic taught us that global problems have to be solved globally, and we are actually really connected. We each have a part in the global supply chain – which, whether you’re in South America or not, can affect that wilderness.

I was also really inspired by the local indiginous communities that we met down there, who are not waiting for the federal government, but rather taking local responsibility for their land.

You can find Taylor on Instagram @taylorfreesolo. Photography by Renan Ozturk // @renan_ozturk


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