Grant Baldwin’s This Mountain Life offers a closer look at various people whose passion is set high in the peaks of the Coastal Mountains in British Columbia. This feature documentary invites us to learn about those for whom the draw of the mountains has shaped their entire lives.
The film’s main focus is a mother and daughter team, Tania and Martina Halik, who decided to trek across those mountains. Tania is the mother, and Martina the daughter. Tania and Martina’s determination to trek across the Coastal Mountains over a six-month period drew me in. I wanted to know more about their experience, but also learn from Grant about the process of putting the film together. During Hot Docs, I had the pleasure of sitting down with the three of them to talk about their experiences, and the making of the film.
It all began with Grant meeting Todd [Weselake]. He had previously worked with Todd at a photography shoot where he learned about Todd’s story of being caught in an avalanche, almost died, then ‘came back to life’ basically. From there, Todd introduce Grant to Martina and Tania, who were already preparing themselves for their six-month, self-supported journey through the mountains.
Although Tania and Martina’s story anchors the film, Grant includes others’ stories throughout it to emphasize their passion for mountain life. Todd’s gripping avalanche survival story; a group of nuns who live at the Queen Marie Monastery high in the mountains; Barry Blanchard, an impassioned alpinist; Simon Beck, a focused snow artist; Bernhard Thor and his wife, Mary who have been living off grid in the mountains for nearly 50 years. Everyone else who are part of the film are people Grant learned about “through word of mouth… talking to people. I met Bernhard and Mary through a friend.” It all “came together organically” Grant explained.
Tania described everyone who appears in the film as being “people who could not be anywhere else… they find comfort living in the mountains.” For Tania being part of the film was “exciting… everything was so professional… just amazing.” Although at first some of their friends were concerned the film would be too much like ‘reality TV’, Tania and Martina “had 100% faith in Grant,” explained Martina.
In terms of their actual journey, Martina described it as “uncomfortable… it was constant survival mode; no mistakes were allowed.” When asked about their interactions with each other, Martina explained most days she and Tania did not see or talk to each other. They had to trek in single-file for safety reasons. As such, they did not talk to each other much. They were able to converse and shared their thoughts mostly at meal times, and wheneve a storm struck. They realised it was “not the same trip for each of us.” Martina acknowledges she continues to learn from her mother’s mindset; Tania is always positive. Tania, however, described “how interesting it was watching [Martina] grow up. I watched her learning to be creative, and solve problems” during this trip. They both agree they have a really strong bond. The trek itself also provided cathartic moments, and it was “nice to get to know each other.”
From a practical and technical standpoint, Tania and Martina carried a lot of items with them. Food and other survival items were a must. They also had to carry Go-Pro cameras and batteries, since they also filmed a lot of their journey when Grant could not be there with them. From their own footage, This Mountain Life shows us the difficult terrain the women travelled through. There were “low snow packs due to different weather patterns”, and some detours because of the terrain itself. They also had to travel at night by starlight at one point. Aside from some of the personal challenges, Martina described their journey as “magical.” For Tania, she explained how when we “remove all distractions [everything becomes] really meditative.” There is a beauty in the silence that is found in the mountains.
We see and can imagine the beauty of the mountains, the silence found there, and the sheer awe of it through Grant’s cinematography. He was able to join the mother-daughter duo on three occasions: at the beginning, middle, and end of their trek. Grant put the knowledge he learned by working on a new Planet Earth series to work in this film. To capture Martina and Tania’s journey through the awe-inspiring mountains, and others’ stories in the film, he used a small crew, a helicopter camera, and some drone work. The result is beautiful cinematography with excellent aerial imagery that captures the scale and wonder of the Coastal Mountains.
Grant described being in “a consistent creative process”. The music composition for the film was first with the help of his cousin. He admits, he wears “a lot of hats… everything is done at home.” He is the Director of Photography, Composer, and Editor in the film. Producer Jen Rustemeyer also helped with some of the editing in terms of story. Grant and Jen are known for working on all aspects of their films. This Mountain Life is no different – it may be a small budget film but the overall production is of very high quality. Seeing it on a big screen is actually the best way to experience the film.
The film’s premiere at Hot Docs was the first time Tania and Martina saw the film. They loved it, and they loved experiencing the audience’s reactions along with theirs as well. Thus far, about half of the subjects have seen the film. Grant is excited to bring the film to the rest of the subjects, including Todd, who was the impetus for the entire project so to speak.
During our conversation, it became clearly evident how Grant was truly inspired by Martina, Tania, and their journey. He shared how in times of stress, he reminds himself of the amazing trek these women embarked on and never gave up. In a way, this is how we all go through life’s journey. At times we may feel like giving up (not unlike Martina in the film), but we push through. The result is we become resilient, creative, and inspire ourselves in reaching new heights. Pun intended.
This Mountain Life continues its journey through various festivals in Germany, UK, Italy, and others. You can follow Tania and Martina at coastmountainepic.ca – Martina’s book is in the works, so stay tuned for that too. For This Mountain Life theatrical release news, check the film’s website at mountainlifefilm.com.
*Interview photos by Trevor Sherwin of Provocateur Images.