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One of the most captivating moments in the new documentary from Windfall Films, The Wall: Climb For Gold, occurs near the one-hour mark. Slovenia’s Janja Garnbret, frustrated on a coordination boulder during a pre-Olympic training session with her coach, Roman Krajnik, nearly gives up. “It’s like I’m climbing stupidly,” Garnbret says in exasperated disappointment as her feet keep slipping on a tricky smear move. Seconds later, still frustrated, Garnbret utters, “It’s pointless to keep doing this.” She then crawls on the bouldering mat to a dusty corner of the room, pondering the day’s training and failures therein as Krajnik urges her to “take a breath.” Then Garnbret collects her gear and walks out of the gym…exhausted, deflated, and defeated. The scene is cinematic gold because it presents such a counter-version to the Janja Garnbret that we have seen so often: The fluid movements on the wall and the successful ascents that seem so effortless. This snippet of Janja Garnbret feeling discouraged during training is like the voyeuristic opposite of all the well-known triumphs; it is a glimpse at a performative masterpiece not yet completed and still a work in progress. Coupled with all of Garnbret’s successes and her eventual Olympic gold, viewers of The Wall can come away with a richer and more comprehensive picture of what it takes to be an all-time great.
That is precisely the allure of The Wall, gaining insight and behind-the-scenes access to the Olympic journeys of four of the greatest to ever compete. In addition to Garnbret, the stars of the film are Japan’s Miho Nonaka, Great Britain’s Shauna Coxsey, and Team USA’s Brooke Raboutou. Each of them gets her own poignant and equally private moment: Nonaka’s family explaining how her recently deceased grandfather is watching over her Olympic performance; Coxsey nervous-eyed in preparation for major hospital surgery; Raboutou explaining some of the complicated dynamics of having her mother also act as her coach. There’s plenty of climbing footage too, and drama pertaining to the postponement of the Tokyo Olympics from 2020 to 2021. There are the physical and emotional woes of all those athletes having to train for the big event during a global pandemic as well. And when compiled together in a slick, 96-minute package, those unique components align The Wall with so many other sports documentaries—those within ESPN’s 30 for 30 series, for example—that shine lights on athletes’ private journeys as a way to better illuminate their public athletic journeys.
In fact, The Wall marks the first time ever that such a mainstream production has captured behind-the-scenes footage of competition climbing training. But the audience for the film should be much wider than diehard competition climbing fans. Climbing fans of any sort, as well as Olympic aficionados and sports enthusiasts at-large will likely enjoy the film, as its themes of determination and dedication are universal and timeless in the sports world.
TheMuch has been made about the great sports documentaries and docuseries released during the multi-year COVID pandemic. 2020’s The Last Dance and Be Like Water explore the life, career, and enduring legend of respective protagonists Michael Jordan and Bruce Lee. 2021’s Schumacher creates a compelling panorama of Formula 1 champion Michael Schumacher, a superstar who suffered a severe brain injury nearly a decade ago while on a skiing trip. The Wall offers a very different narrative than all of those, of course. But upon its official release on January 18th, 2022 (available for pre-order now), The Wall will take its rightful place among the other intriguing sports documentaries of this prolonged pandemic age.