Reel Rock returns to showcase diverse climbing stories

Leo Polk , A&E Reporter

For its third year, the Whitman Climbing Club and WEB will be teaming up to bring the Reel Rock Film Festival to campus on Friday, March 26.

Senior Emery Hansell has been working with Reel Rock’s liaison to college event coordinators, Greg Laut, to showcase four films relating to the world of climbing. 

Reel Rock is a film festival that has been running for 15 years, and now has screenings on every continent, including Antarctica. Of course, the pandemic has reduced their ability to hold in-person screenings but college campuses like Whitman are still able to showcase the event in a virtual format.

The films shown this year detail stories that generally haven’t been told before. Laut notes that, while climbing has notoriously been a sport reserved for the affluent, this year the films will be detailing a far more diverse body of climbers.

Illustration by Shasta Soles.

“Climbing a lot of times is a very white-male-focused sport. So there’s a lot of stories to tell outside of that. So we’re excited that this year we’re able to showcase a diverse selection of stories” Laut said.

Two of the films focus on female climbers making history in their sport and advancing in the climbing world. Another film details the efforts of indigenous climber, Lonnie Kauk, to climb the routes his father once climbed in Yosemite. While he connects with his father’s legacy, he is also connecting to his indigenous roots which trace back to the Ahwahneechee Tribe in Yosemite. 

Laut says that one film has been getting a substantial amount of buzz, Black Ice. This film covers the story of a crew of aspiring ice climbers from a new inner-city gym in Memphis, Memphis Rox. The film covers the climbers learning how to ice climb in Montana.

Hansel brought Reel Rock to campus her sophomore year. She saw the festival at home in high school and hoped to bring the event to Whitman. Hansel credits the festival for providing her with her initial interest in climbing.

“I think having that less intimidating entry to the climbing world is really important, especially with trying to involve people that wouldn’t necessarily immediately be interested in climbing — at least in a conversation that doesn’t feel isolating,” Hansell said.

Under the current circumstances of COVID-19, that isolation has only been accentuated. Hansel believes events like this bring students together, to talk about a common subject of interest. She believes this is especially true because of the separation that students are feeling during these uncertain times. 

Sophomore Xaaran Dolence echoed Hansell’s excitement. They viewed Reel Rock in person their first year after watching it with their introductory rock climbing class. To Dolence, events like Reel Rock are crucial to exposing people to the larger world of climbing and its community outside of Whitman. 

“I’m not especially engaged in the climbing culture on campus. Every exposure I have had, however, has been very positive and encouraging, especially toward new or inexperienced students. I think that Reel Rock contributes to the culture on campus by educating us on the community outside Whitman and, in turn, breaking the Whitman Bubble for climbing,” Dolence said.

To watch the film, look out for communication from WEB and the climbing club with a link to sign up for the screening. There is a sign-up link also available on the climbing club Instagram, Presence page and a Facebook event page. You will be given a personalized link that will only work for you and you will be given 24 hours to view the film on March 26.