Extreme myth busted in documentary

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When Trevor Harris first took up rock climbing about five years ago, he was trying something with a pop culture reputation for being "extreme."
Harris, who spoke with The Telegram Wednesday, said he was surprised to find climbing a less dangerous, more satisfying sport than he had imagined.
The young engineer developed as a climber and made the move from the Wallnuts gym to outdoor rock faces.
Enamoured with his experiences, over the last three years, he has taken on the task of completing a documentary on the climbing community in Newfoundland and Labrador.
Harris said "Breach: A Newfoundland Climbing Film" is meant to put on display the real story of rock climbing, something other than the dangerous and death-defying images popularized by scenes in movies like the Chris O'Donnell vehicle "Vertical Limit" and "Cliffhanger" with Sly Stallone.
"There is a lot of misinformed speculation about rock climbing," said Harris, who pointed to the movies "farcical" and dangerous action scenes.
He said it is a myth that climbing is not a safe sport.
"It's scary, but it's not dangerous," he said, adding his film "Breach" devotes part of its time to encouraging non-climbers to consider trying the activity.

Putting provincial climbs on tape
Of course making a film about rock climbing is a big leap from simply learning how to rock climb.
Harris said his interest in film and the documentaries began while working with Ross Squires of Memories Forever. He said Squires taught him about recording and editing mini DV (digital video).
He took to the craft.
"I even made a camera boom out of old parts I had," he said.
"I started making small videos out around, just friends and family and whatnot."
Then he attended a climbing competition at Wallnuts and began to consider the idea of rock climbing as a documentary topic.
In addition to introducing potential new climbers to the activity, Harris said he wanted to introduce people to the climbing community that exists in St. John's and the "way of life" that is climbing.
"I didn't want to tell a story about 'death defying' athletes," Harris said. "That's not what climbing is."
He said as far as he has seen, there are about 40 regular climbers for outdoor sites on the Avalon Peninsula and an additional 100 or so "stragglers" who go out from time to time.
It is a sizable community, said Harris, who avoided calling the climbers athletes.
"A lot of people don't call it a sport. It's actually a lifestyle. It really is," he said.
The engineer said he completed a short film on the local climbers, but wanted to do more.
The documentary "is obviously a much bigger scale, and I didn't think it would take as long as it has," Harris said. "It's been three years since I first committed to doing this."
Still, Harris has not been deterred. Matching his filming style to his relaxed attitude while climbing the province's rock faces, Harris would let his camera roll from time to time and not worry about getting exciting or dramatic footage all the time.
He said about 40 per cent of the film was shot in Flatrock, where he typically will go to climb. Yet locations in Manuels and even the Canadian rock-climbing Mecca of Squamish, B.C., also make appearances.
"I wanted this film to be very natural and not forced," he said, adding he never calling in climbers for staged events.
He simply continued on with the project one foot hold at a time.
"Keeping it casual like that kept it fun," he said.
Harris said all of the climbers featured in the film are local, and the bulk of the narration comes from follow-up interviews conducted at his home. Asked why he would feel the need to climb rock faces, Harris said he actually asked that very question to the climbers he featured in his film.
They all paused at the question, Harris said.
"They kind of formed an answer and every answer was different."
Harris said getting out for climbs without his camera equipment is something he is looking forward to.
He admitted he is afraid of heights, but has been using his nervousness as a challenge to overcome, rather than a reason not to climb.
He does not worry about falling, saying proper training, good partners and following standardized procedures in safety take away the kind of risk usually associated with "extreme" sports.
"My first fall outside was intentional," said Harris, who has made 20- and 30-foot drops to test his rigging.
"We have a climbers' saying," he said. "If you're not falling, you're not trying hard enough."
"Breach: A Newfoundland Climbing Film" will debut at the Inco Innovation Centre tonight. Doors to the screening open at 7 p.m. and the movie will start at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $7 at the door.
Harris said he plans to enter the film to a variety of festivals, but also has plans to make a DVD of the film available at Outfitters and Wallnuts.

afitzpatrick@thetelegram.com

Organizations: Inco

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, St. John's, Flatrock Manuels Squamish

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