06_Interview_Salmina                                                                        10/2019 

“The Mountain Writes the Screenplay”

In 2010 Carinthian film maker Gerald Salmina received the Great Prize of the City of Tegernsee for “Mount St. Elias”, a spectacular documentary about the world’s longest downhill ski run. The polar opposite of Salmina’s extreme films are his intensive landscape documentaries. In 2019 Salmina returns to the Mountain Film Festival programme with his latest film “Manaslu – Berg der Seelen” (Manaslu – Mountain of Souls). Centre stage is Hans Kammerlander, one of the most famous mountaineers. In this interview, Gerald Salmina describes the role of extremes in his films and his take on the future of mountain film.

 Mountain films define our view of the mountains – what perspective on the mountains did you wish to present?
Mountains inspire awe in us, challenge us, motivate and admonish us. They present a chance to grow beyond ourselves and to return to the valley with humility and gratitude. They provide the opportunity to find inner calm, to refresh our love for nature and to share it with others. They grant an entryway into a new world, which offers clear rules and allows us to forget about the chaos of everyday life. What remains for me is the fascination that those who expose themselves to the mountains have no power over them, that the real screen writer is the mountain itself.

How important are extremes for you? If Kammerlander were not extreme, you probably wouldn’t have created a film about him, right?
For me, the Manaslu film is a search for traces left by a curious individual who discovers his talent for the world’s great mountains “by accident” and then uses it with utmost passion, energy and great skill to celebrate triumphs, but also to reach his own limits. Hans grants unique insights to me. For me, the extreme achievements are merely the scenery behind which we may get to know the actual person. The overall message is one of passion and the resulting motivation to achieve small or great goals, to rise and get going rather than sitting in front of the fireplace. After all, each day is precious, as long as we have something to look forward to.

What risks do you and your team embrace in order to shoot spectacular footage?
Most of the footage is shot close-up. Which means that in those situations, my team is exposed to almost the exact same risk as the mountaineers. A professional attitude means, however, not to accept any risk which might turn into an adventure with uncertain ending.

Which development has most prominently changed the way you approach mountain film?
In 2007 the Mount St. Elias film succeed impressively at demonstrating the dimensions of the mountain relative to the mountaineers in one shot. With the help of the then relatively novel Cineflex helicopter camera system, we were able to represent the dimensions of the world’s biggest coastal mountain at the same time as showing the human ants on this mountain. Drones make it marvellously possible today to capture the steepness of ice or rock climbing. During solo climbs athletes can use small cameras to film themselves and to share subjective impressions, which can only be experienced during such extreme endeavours. The synergy of many new camera techniques therefore permits us to make mountain films much more impressive and to bring them much closer to viewers.

Which “old” film makers taught you the most?
Werner Herzog told me that he doesn’t want to cheat viewers with the camera. Until then I had not been explicitly aware of this, but exactly that was always and will continue to be our goal. To achieve that, continuous learning is necessary and comes about with the challenge. You learn from each project, not from other people.

How do you see the future of mountain film?
The mountain film genre has established itself and will continue to tell big and small tales, which are capable of fascinating people from all walks of life and of taking them on an emotional roller coaster. The more professional the mountain film makers’ creations become, the more the mountain film audience will grow.

Will the Oscar for “Free Solo” have an effect on mountain film?
I would worry about the fact that this documentary film won because Alex Honnold delivered a “supernatural” achievement, which was outstandingly documented. It will be difficult for other mountain films to achieve anything like it, because this kind of athletic deed is almost impossible to top. I feel a certain dread that mountain films which present a convincing narrative and represent reality will find it hard to succeed without an athletic moon landing. Still, it makes me proud and content that this time, a mountain film received the highest documentary film reward.

What do you consider the best mountain films of all times?
Comparisons are difficult and unrewarding. Each epoch had excellent films. Cinematic technique and the development of the sport have changed and alleviated a lot. What remains difficult is the art of telling stories in such a way that they become heart-felt. This feeling is individual and requires no comparison, only intensive attention over the course of 90 minutes.