Messner Mountain Movie
Films by and about Reinhold Messner
Reinhold Messner is a storyteller. His films are not designed to advise or moralise. They show how humans react when they go out into the wild and expose themselves to the elements. There they have a very minor part; it is the mountain that plays the main role.
True stories: interaction between fiction and documentary
My basic tenet as a storyteller is simple: Experiences are more powerful than inventions – for the simple reason that fiction cannot match reality at the level of the emotions, especially when the story is not set in our urban world but outside, in what is called the wilderness. In our complex globalised world, however, a story based on facts can only offer orientation if it depicts as much of the real world as possible.
Of course, however many facts I incorporate in it, a narrated story always presents my perception of the world and not the truth. The truth is no more to be found on the screen than good and evil. The art consists in creating strong emotions and letting the audience become part of the story. The goal must therefore be to combine fact and art.
But why is it so difficult to make an authentic mountain film? Thousands of metres of footage have taught me that at the beginning you have to be free – in terms of producers, audiences and even material. Specifications and contracts are the biggest enemies of any film. All you need is a cameraman and sound engineer, and shooting can begin – with three or four people in front of the camera well away from the hustle and bustle, and never on a tarmac road but always on a track or in the rock face. Nor should the cameraman attempt to be smarter than clouds, mist and sunlight. There is just one rule for the cameraman: “Simply let it all happen and don’t try any fancy tricks. Point the camera at the subject and then move it as little as possible; don’t start zooming and panning, because if you're not a really good climber or adventurer, it won’t do much good. If you try to be smart on the mountain, you’ll miss the mood of the scene!”
It is like climbing, this mixture of exhilaration and trepidation that develops and has to be captured in the adventure.
And the two are only to be found outdoors, away from the studios and all predictability. At first there is the feeling of elation that the action is beginning, but then comes the grind and the growing pressure as it gradually dawns on you how easily you could be swept away by an avalanche, fall into a crevasse or be killed by a falling serac. If you’re lucky, everything will go well, but the tension remains; it’s always there and grows steadily in every single actor – in front of, behind or next to the camera. As soon as the summit is reached or the decision to turn back is made, the invisible weight of suspense vanishes, and everything is different. Rarely has a professional film crew captured any of that, because everything outside is new for the studio film people. Also, they usually do not know exactly what they are looking for; they simply film what they see, but what they see is not identical with what we adventurers feel. Ultimately, however, only feelings have the power to make the images on the screen seem true.
But it is not necessary for everything shown on the screen to have demonstrably happened in reality in every detail. The fundamentals must be right and the emotions. It is there, at the core, that truth and permanence lie.
Fictions create a different reality, but in most cases they are too far removed from all the facts. The impression on the cinema audience has no permanence; it fades immediately. The first two films I directed – “Still Alive” and “The Holy Mountain” – taught me that shooting can never adhere to a rigid script, because about a third of the planned scenes cannot be captured or only in part. The weather, hazards and the wilderness are with you in the director’s chair! The converse is also true: A third of the emotions that ultimately tell the story are gifts received during the shooting: a special light, a stumble with the camera running, two locals by the wayside. So I have learned to constantly rewrite the film in my head so that the adventure of shooting the narrated story finally produces a true story.