First Look: Stone Locals—An Interview With Co-Director Mikey Schaefer

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This Thursday, August 27, at 5 p.m. PST, Patagonia will be screening their new film Stone Locals: Rediscovering the Soul of Climbing.  We had a chance to watch the screener, and the film was amazing, heartfelt, beautifully filmed, and moving. Shot and directed by Mikey Schaefer (who appears in our latest issue, No. 374, in a feature on his and Shanjean Lee’s first ascent of Washington State’s hardest multi-pitch climb, Dark Side of Liberty, on Liberty Bell) and Cheyne Lempe, the hour-long film interweaves five different narrative threads/profiles on core climbers who help define and enrich our community. There is Kathy Karlo—a regular columnist at Climbing, whose latest For the Love of Climbing column appears in No. 374—completing the first female ascent of the Triple Crown of fearsome Rob Robinson 5.12+ roof cracks at the Tennessee Wall; the German boulderer and artist Daniel Pohl, who has created Avalonia, a utopian sculpture garden and bouldering playground for himself and other climbers in the woods of Germany; Dario Ventura, who with his father, Miguel, forms the bedrock of the Red River Gorge climbing community, with their pizza restaurant/campground Miguel’s Pizza; the Keithleys, a Salt Lake City–based family of four deeply involved in local climbing activism and in educating new generations of climbers; and Katsutaka “Jumbo” Yokoyama, the legendary Japanese alpinist, who is redefining his relationship with risk in order to ensure he’ll be there to help raise his three young children.

As per Patagonia, “Climbing has always been more than just a sport. It’s provided a way of life and a makeshift family to misfits who share a calling. But recently the sport has breached the mainstream. State-of-the-art gyms are popping up in major cities all over the world, crags are more crowded than ever and a climbing film won an Oscar. As the sport grapples with its growing popularity, the people who anchor its core and community have more responsibility than ever. They’re the people who mentor, support and inspire others, listening and learning as much as they teach. This film tells the stories of five of these anchors, the Stone Locals who keep the soul of climbing and nurture it as the sport evolves.”

Kathy Karlo taking on the Triple Crown of 5.12+ roof cracks at the Tennessee Wall.

Kathy Karlo taking on the Triple Crown of 5.12+ roof cracks at the Tennessee Wall.

We caught up with the film’s co-director Mikey Schaefer for a brief Q&A.

Climbing: Stone Locals did a great job of showing just how essential and in a way unchanging the core of the sport remains, even as it grows larger and more commercial, and as the internet changes the dialogue about what climbing is and should be. How did you go about selecting your subjects for the film, and what was it about each of their stories that spoke to you?

Mikey Schaefer: From the onset of the project, we knew that getting the right subjects was going to make or break the film, so we spent almost two months searching and researching. Everyone on the production team was involved in the process. We sent out emails to climbers around the world, scoured social media, posted on supertopo.com (the forum still existed then), and chatted with friends at the Access Fund, the American Alpine Club, and numerous climbing organizations. We probably had close to 50 potential subjects on the list to start, and then slowly whittled it down to 10 people or so. Once we had the 10 people, we started conducting phone interviews to get more of an idea of how they participated in the climbing community. We were looking for subjects that truly loved and cared about climbing and its community. That love for climbing and its community was universal for the five subjects we ended up choosing for the film.

Though we did conduct phone interviews and had an idea of whom our subjects were, we didn’t really know their stories until we started filming with them. We approached the film more like a documentary than a scripted narrative film, and let the subjects tell the story that they wanted to share. We were just there to listen, watch, and capture their life and how climbing has impacted it.

Dario Ventura is the son of Miguel of the iconic Miguel's Pizza in the Red River Gorge.

Dario Ventura is the son of Miguel of the iconic Miguel's Pizza in the Red River Gorge.

Climbing: Stone Locals also did a great job of appealing to both veteran and newer climbers—in a way, it's an hour of video mentorship. What do you hope old crusters like myself will take away from it? And what do you hope newer climbers will glean

Schaefer: I'd like to hope the old crusters (which I self-identify with) will come away with a sense of hope and confidence that climbing is still being taken care of even though it is growing and changing at an unprecedented rate. For the new climbers, I hope it shows the community side of climbing that isn’t always portrayed in climbing media.

Climbing: What prompted you and Cheyne to make the film—what need did you guys identify that you felt like hadn't appeared in climbing cinema to date?

Schaefer: Both Cheyne and myself wanted a film that would help educate and inform climbers on the importance of climbing and its community. We wanted to show “the other side” of climbing and convey that it isn’t just a sport or a physical activity, but a community and a way of life. Most of the media we see about climbing is very focused around a singular person, climb, expedition, or send, but if you’ve been climbing long enough, you eventually realize that climbing is about so much more than those things. We wanted to show that.

Climbing: Any plans to make a follow-up film, either with these same climbers or others?

Schaefer: No plans as of now, but I can’t tell you how many people have asked about a full-length film just featuring Daniel (the German climber).

Daniel Pohl cutting bare feet during.a bouldering session.

Daniel Pohl cutting bare feet during.a bouldering session.

Climbing: What did you learn about climbing along the way—during the process of filming and editing—that you didn't already know?

Schaefer: I’m approaching having been an active climber for 30 years, so I have pretty good understanding and knowledge of climbing. That said, the process of making Stone Locals was a good reminder that the more energy you put into climbing and its community, the more you’ll receive in return.