Oakley Anderson-Moore on Warren Harding, Filmmaking and The Impossible

Oakley Anderson-Moore - mountain-climber, documentarian, and Bureau filmmaker - recently premiered her first feature film, 'Brave New Wild', in Los Angeles to a sold-out theater. Erica and I attended the special screening event, having only previously seen bits and pieces of the film (as a work-in-progress),

A layered and powerful story of searching for meaning in the most dangerous and uncharted of places, and the inspiring ‘dirtbags’ who left their mark before, during and after the golden era of climbing.

Synopsis: BRAVE NEW WILD is an offbeat chronicle of America’s Golden Age of rock climbing before and after the controversial ascent of the Dawn Wall in 1970. Some forty years later, Oakley Anderson-Moore, the daughter of a pioneering climber, stumbles upon her father's old hi8 tapes, and sets out to answer the question: why climb when there's nothing to gain -- and everything to lose? 

There was a Q&A following the screening, but we only thought to ask the following question in the days after,

BUREAU: Part of your film covers the unimaginable 27 days it took Warren Harding to climb El Capitan, an event he quietly described as the greatest thing he had ever done. Being a climber yourself, what similarities do you see between scaling the side of a difficult mountain and directing your first feature film? 

Oakley: Warren Harding is one of the most intriguing characters you’ll come across in American history, let alone American climbing history. He represents a maverick, the outsider with a devil-may-care attitude. But he also possessed a profoundly acute sense of the world, one that manifested itself in an incisive wit that could cut through the invisible absurdities that we cling to in our society. Semper Farcissimus was his philosophy, a play on the Marine motto that translates to Always Farsing. (The verb form of ‘to farce’ that pretty much only Warren Harding has ever conjugated, to my knowledge.) Harding used buffoonery as satire. 

But unlike other characters in history that use humor and satire, Harding was not just a man who hid behind words; he was a man of resolute action. Royal Robbins, his often rival but sometime ally, described him to me as “having moxie.” Twelve years before the controversial 27 day ascent of the Dawn Wall on El Capitan, he did another route which was the very first ascent on El Cap. In 1958, he climbed the Nose of El Capitan with a slew of other colorful characters who threw their lot in with him. At the time, no one had ever climbed anything like El Capitan. He did the impossible. 

The method he used to climb the Nose, and later the Dawn Wall, was termed ‘siege climbing.’ Instead of doing it in one go like his skillful contemporary Robbins, he laid siege to the Mountain, and rappelled up and down over whatever period of time he needed to achieve his ascent. While his abilities and tactics in climbing were often the subject of debate amongst his peers, no one could deny that he was tough, and that he was one dedicated mother @#$@%. 

Can I relate to Harding’s experiences? Considering I have been working on this, my first film, since 2008, crafting the story piece by piece for over six years, I’m certainly no stranger to the siege tactics of filmmaking! A film is a hell of a lot like a climb, in a lot of ways. Amongst climbers, a first ascent is considered a creative piece of work -- one that stands for who you are. At the end of his efforts, Harding’s climb was repeated, judged by others, and continues to be experienced for what it is to this day. And just like Harding, I’m proud of what I have created, and I hope that others can experience the film and find meaning in it themselves. 

In 'Brave New Wild', Oakley Anderson-Moore has shared a layered and powerful story of searching for meaning in the most dangerous and uncharted of places, and the inspiring 'dirtbags' who left their mark before, during and after the golden era of climbing. And how her Father left what he knew of that world for her to rediscover in old family VHS tapes - in that way, BNW is Oakley's first assent, an artists statement left behind for future generations. 

The film is available via Vimeo, VHX and iTunes. Check your area for local screening events, or help host your own. 

Mike Ambs

I love to film things, tell stories, and read on the subway. I'm pretty sure blue whales are my power animal.