Creating a film is certainly a reach. With adventure documentaries especially, there’s no Hollywood budget or army of editors. There’s uncertainty too – whether there’s even a story, or whether the film will ever be finished. When I decided to kayak the Grand Canyon in 2014, I knew the best person to document our journey was my good friend and Emmy-winning director and filmmaker, Michael Brown. We’d made multiple films together all around the world from the Dolomites to Tibet. He recorded us on the first high definition video camera (25 pounds) as we crested the Hillary step and took our last steps on to the summit of Everest. With Michael, you never have to question his loyalty or dedication to the team. When it hits the fan, I can trust him with my life.
On the Grand Canyon, he followed our team on a ducky, with his film team including Andy Maser and James Q Martin, capturing close-up footage and emotion from every possible angle. My No Barriers pledge to complete the Grand Canyon was over in 21 days, but Michael’s pledge to make a film had only just begun. He couldn’t have known that it would consist of thousands of hours editing, reviewing footage, and getting the color and sound near perfection. And he certainly didn’t know it would take him nearly four years to complete.
In early November, Weight of Water made its debut at the acclaimed Banff Mountain Film Festival, alongside legends in the field like Doug Scott and titanic films like Alex Honnold’s Free Solo and Tommy Caldwell’s Dawn Wall. The most fun is that the screening became a family reunion as I got to relive the adventure with my friends. My good buddy and kayaking guide, Harlan Taney, along with teammates Rene Collins, Timmy O’Neill, Skyler Williams, Steve Mace, Buddy Levy, and Rob Raker all joined us to celebrate and finally watch it on the big screen. It was such a powerful cast of films; we tried to keep our expectations reasonable. So it was surprise and elation to learn Weight of Water was selected to win the Grand Prize of the entire festival! We also won for Best Film: Mountain Sports Award.
Michael Brown shared some of his thoughts and feelings going into the festival:
“One of the traits that work against me as a filmmaker is a terrible insecurity. I don’t believe that a film that I am working on is good till I see it with an audience. In Banff the screenings were wonderful and the standing ovation at the premiere, attended mostly by people I didn’t know, brought tears to my eyes.
The heart of my filmmaking philosophy is that even the people we idolize are fundamentally human and more like us than we know. When a film tries to overstate its protagonist, the dangers they face or the importance of the story, it pushes the audience away. I prefer to draw the viewer in with a central character stating their truth in their own words. It means asking them to be vulnerable.”
The full jury statement:
“In the end, we selected the film that touched us most deeply – the one that caused us all to shed some tears. The human achievement that was the focal point of this work gripped us and the emotional journey of the main protagonist as the narrative unfolded was palpable, while also being exquisitely subtle. We were moved. We were immensely inspired. And we were drawn into the story so intensely, we felt a part of the exhilaration of an unimaginably hard-won accomplishment.” — Rebecca Martin, jury member
A week later we brought Weight of Water to the Denver Film Festival and were surrounded by friends and family. I was grateful for the support of our fiercely loyal community, and each showing sold out weeks in advance.
But despite that, the documentary was now competing in a bigger pool of mainstream films, so again we tried to manage our expectations. On Monday morning, however, we learned Weight of Water took home the People’s Choice Award. I wish I could see Michael’s smile; “happy,“ “proud,” over-the-top” doesn’t even describe it.
We’ve only screened the film a few times so far, and it’s already been a rewarding journey. As we bring it to more people and more festivals around the country and world, it’s exciting to imagine the possibilities. I hope you’ll join us at one of them this winter and spring.
Watch the trailer here.