Challenging body and mind: Film festival highlights overcoming obstacles — outdoors

·3 min read
Climber Harvey Wright ascends the north gulley of the Stawamus Chief (Siy’ám’-Smánit) in the documentary Crux: The Climb Towards Mental Health, premiering at the Vancouver International Mountain Film Festival.
Climber Harvey Wright ascends the north gulley of the Stawamus Chief (Siy’ám’-Smánit) in the documentary Crux: The Climb Towards Mental Health, premiering at the Vancouver International Mountain Film Festival.

(Casey Dubois Media - image credit)

Harvey Wright admits he was at rock bottom when he first considered climbing as a therapeutic hobby.

After years of depression, anxiety and substance abuse, he started watching adventure videos online. "If I'm suffering alone on my couch, maybe I can go outside and have a different type of suffering and feel better," Wright told CBC's On the Coast.

Five years later, he's the one on the screen.

"I started by watching climbing documentaries, and never thought I'd be the subject of one."

Wright is the focus of Crux: The Climb Towards Mental Health, a documentary premiering at the Vancouver International Mountain Film Festival which opened Friday and runs until Feb. 28.

Harvey Wright rests after climb in new documentary Crux: The Climb Towards Mental Health.
Harvey Wright rests after climb in new documentary Crux: The Climb Towards Mental Health.

Harvey Wright rests after climb in new documentary Crux: The Climb Towards Mental Health.

It's one of more than 50 films, workshops and panel discussions to be held online this month to accommodate COVID-19 pandemic restrictions during the 24th annual festival focusing on the environment, mountain culture and adventure.

Conquering and adapting to challenges is a thread that runs through this year's programming.

"This year, especially with the pandemic, the mental health conversation is more prominent than ever before," said VIMFF program director Tom Wright. "In general, our festival is a lot more interested in deep, personal stories."

Multi-sport athlete Sam Danniels shapes a custom surfboard in the documentary Beyond the Break. His spinal injury makes it difficult to use an off-the-shelf board.
Multi-sport athlete Sam Danniels shapes a custom surfboard in the documentary Beyond the Break. His spinal injury makes it difficult to use an off-the-shelf board.

Multi-sport athlete Sam Danniels shapes a custom surfboard in the documentary Beyond the Break. His spinal injury makes it difficult to use an off-the-shelf board.

The documentary Beyond the Break follows Sam Danniels' journey to overcome spinal cord injuries, and his revelation in the waves near Tofino, B.C., on Vancouver Island.

Invited to surf with friends at Mackenzie Beach, a Pacific storm rolled in, with wild, powerful storm swells.

"[Waves] were just picking me up and that feeling of your stomach dropping was just totally remarkable," he told CBC's Early Edition.

The experience hooked the multi-sport athlete on surfing, and led to a two-year safari of riding the waves at least once a month. A key part of the story was shaping his own surfboard to better overcome physical challenges.

"Necessity is the mother of invention," Danniels says. "I wanted badly to participate and I seem to have exhausted all reasonable mediums of acquiring a board built by someone else that was going to work well for me."

Sam Danniels surfing in the documentary Beyond the Break.
Sam Danniels surfing in the documentary Beyond the Break.

Sam Danniels surfing in the documentary Beyond the Break.

Climber Harvey Wright found working with filmmakers and friends Casey Dubois and Zac Hoffman helped combat isolation brought on by the pandemic.

"I'm not going to lie, the past year has been difficult on me, like it has been for a lot of people, and I've lost my way more than a few times this year," he says.

"It's been beautiful, but also really messy. That's life, but that's also the relation climbing has to life. It's not about getting to the top of something, conquering a mountain or summit, it's really about the process, in which you move toward your fears and your discomfort, and you learn how to meet those things with an open heart and some compassion and some acceptance and tolerance for what is."

This year's Vancouver International Mountain Film Festival program and tickets can be found online at: https://vimff.org/