VIFF 2021 Review: The Sanctity of Space

Written by Taylor Baker

65/100

The Sanctity of Space marks the first time either co-director/climber Renan Ozturk and Freddie Wilkinson have eclipsed a sixty minute runtime. It details the passage of the climbers on a collection of peaks that was plotted by renowned photographer, cartographer, explorer, and climber Bradford Washburn. The documentary serves as both historical reenactment of moments of Bradford’s life and a detailed recounting of Renan, Freddie, and Zack Smith’s attempt to climb the route. The route itself is drawn on a gorgeous enormous photograph that Bradford had taken back in the 1930’s. Leading us down an investigation into the life, experiences, and artistry of the Massachusetts native that fell in love with climbing as a child after a perpetual hayfever he suffered from cleared up during an ascent. 

The film quickly turns from historical reenactment and pursuit of a historically documented but unattempted climb to a personal retelling of dead friends, emotional experiences of our central climbers roughly between 2007 to 2013, and a few failures at the climb. It’s not at all clear why exactly the post production for the film took such a long time. But it’s clear that the choice to frame the film around Bradford Washburn came deep into their creative process. The historical reenactments are of great quality and convey a sense of the expedition that he was on and the risks he undertook.

There are a half dozen talking heads that walk us through the legacy of Washburn from his advice to Amelia Earhart that after being disregarded directly led to her death, and his over forty year term as Director of the Boston Museum of Science. It’s hard to imagine that I knew nothing of Washburn nor his legacy overtly before walking into the film. It stumbles where it attempts to juggle the intimate lives of our climbers with the nature of their expedition, like summiting the peaks themselves the film gets lost and loses its definition–its communicatory conveyance of the details of their physical climb. We don’t know exactly where they are or the way it felt to attempt the summits. They do overtly tell us at various points but as viewers we’re lost in the enormity of the mountains trying to tracing the route with them. Instead we witness only what we can, which is what they’ve captured and it doesn’t connect.

The Sanctity of Space was screened as part of the 2021 edition of the Vancouver International Film Festival.

You can follow more of Taylor’s thoughts on LetterboxdTwitter, and Rotten Tomatoes.

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