The opening shots show an iconic Alaska mountain – a perfect pyramid rising from the ocean and shading the town below. It’s majestic, but not particularly intimidating…you think. Then the camera zooms in to see a line of people ascending. It’s clear these people are high-level athletes – lean and strong – and they are suffering. The treeless scree is so steep that the people are struggling to lift one foot above the next, let alone run.
Welcome to Mount Marathon in Seward, Alaska, and the annual race up and down its 3,022-foot summit. The race has been held for over 100 years (not consecutively). It is a rite of passage for many locals and a major point on the checklist of Olympians and any punishment-loving runner.
Max Romey is a filmmaker from Anchorage, who is currently running competitively for his college in Washington State. The drama of the Mount Marathon race captured his imagination. For all intents, the race could seem like any other event – up and down a mountain followed by a cold beer. But in this small Alaskan town, the stories of challenge, heartbreak and redemption are as powerful as the mountain itself.
Here at Ibex, we love a good story, almost as much as we love a hard run. So we’re supporting Max and his writer/co-producer, Natalie Fedak, in telling their story. Their film is call 3022ft. Below is a short chat with Max.
Ibex: The opening shots of Mount Marathon are gorgeous. Tell us a little about the mountain and the area.
Max Romey: Mount Marathon is a 3,022-foot mountain that looms above the town of Seward. It ranges from steep to cliff and from wooded to open shale.
Ibex: What is it about the Mount Marathon race that captured your imagination?
Max : The race itself captured my imagination and the stories of the runners kept me going. This mountain is deadly and it seems insane to even think of running up it, until you are there and that’s when everything changes. We are all looking for a challenge to prove to ourselves what we are made of and this mountain is as good as it gets. The competition, danger and terrain bring out your inner mountain goat and [will] take everything you’ve got.
Ibex: The competitors all give a sense of deep, emotional connection to this event – akin to the Olympics or the Boston Marathon. What is it about this race, which most people have never heard of, that is so engaging?
Max: Mount Marathon is just a 3,022-foot pile of rocks, but every athlete that runs it brings their own story to the mix. It is like a stone soup of endurance, passion and motivation and whether you are struggling with confidence, kids, expectations or drugs, you are part of this community.
Ibex: You’ve done several films on running, which tends to be a more quiet, solitary endeavor – even in a race situation. How do you approach an outdoor story that isn’t as effortlessly dramatic as say – kayaking huge falls or ski mountaineering?
Max: I grew up watching ski films and know the thrill and excitement of watching a skier huck a huge cliff – the way your heartbeat gets going and the temptation to run out of the theater and try the same thing. That is what I want to bring to people with this film and my movies. Mountain running might not be as fast, dangerous or dramatic as skiing, but it is a hard, messy, dirty business, and I am excited to show the beauty, excitement and fulfillment in that.
Ibex: Speaking of hard and messy business – unless you had a helicopter budget – you were carrying the film gear up the mountain yourself. What type of cameras and equipment did you shoot with?
Max: Luckily for me, camera technology has gotten lighter and more powerful over the past few years. Otherwise I could not do what I do. In addition to hard work and creativity, we used everything from a GoPro to DSLRs to capture these stories. We could not be everywhere during the race and put together a great crew of friends to cover the mountain from every angle so we did not miss a thing.
Ibex: You’re crowd funding support for 3022ft. How do you think crowd funding has changed the film world?
Max: You can hardly talk to a filmmaker with out bringing up the words crowd funding, and there is a good reason for that. These new platforms are becoming the connection between you and the stories you want to see, and have offered filmmakers the chance to make a movie for the people who want to see it, instead of having to rely on a third party and their motives. Although these campaigns can be pushy at times they are doing a great job in helping a community support the passion and hard work that would otherwise go unseen.
[Ed. Note: If you’d like to support 3022ft. in post-production and in its distribution and film festival efforts, Max is running a crowd funding campaign through October 31, 2014, via Indiegogo.com. Click here for more information and/or to contribute.]
Ibex: What is your next project?
Max: There is always one or five on the back burner, but 3022ft. is taking center stage in my life right now. As for the others I can’t say too much aside from one involves Kodiak Island, one involves a fox, and the last involves some unique drone footage.
We’ll stay tuned. In the meantime, check out the trailer for 3022ft. and hit the trails. The 2015 Mount Marathon race is calling…