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‘Wild Life’ a Story of Romancing Conservation
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Saturday, April 1, 2023
 

STORY AND PHOTOS BY KAREN BOSSICK

After Doug Tompkins lost his life in a kayaking accident in Patagonia, his grieving widow Kris Tompkins decided she had two choices: She could join her beloved husband or she could continue to give purpose to his life by preserving one of the last wild places on earth.

She chose the latter, and her ensuing journey is recounted in the new documentary “Wild Life” by Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin, who won an Oscar for “Free Solo.” “Free Solo” focused on climber Alex Honnold’s quest to do a free solo climb of El Capitan.

A sellout audience attending the open salvo of this week’s 12th annual Sun Valley Film Festival was the second audience to see “Wild Life” after its premiere at SXSW in Austin.

Doug Tompkins employed the DIY approach to saving the earth—by buying up parcels of Chile’s Patagonia with the fortune he and Kris amassed from founding Espirit and The North Face and Kris’ role as CEO of Patagonia.

Their hope: To cobble together national parks in Chile and Argentina to protect the ecosystem and the wildlife. They even reintroduced the jaguar as they strived to strike a balance between guanacos and pumas and other native species.

“Wild Life” takes viewers to the beginning with the friendship between Patagonia clothing’s Yvon Chouinard and Tompkins and their ascent on Patagonia’s technically challenging Mount Fitz Roy, relating how that when they returned nearly 20 years later they realized things were warming up.

“If we destroy nature, we destroy ourselves,” Chouinard said.

Today Tomkins’ efforts have created or expanded 17 parks in Chile and Argentina, conserving more than 14.7 million acres, in an effort called Rewilding Argentina and Rewilding Chile, despite sometimes hostile opposition from local politicians in the early going

The filmmakers were granted unprecedented access to the Patagonia archives, as well as the personal photo stashes of Chouinard and Tompkins, including fun footage of Kris’ former life as a surfer girl. Into the mix they added their own footage of breathtaking waterfalls and the soaring Chilean wilderness, which left some of those in the audience spellbound.

“It was such a deep personal film, so very challenging,” Chin told the audience. “There’s a lot of pressure when you’re making a movie about people you look up to.”

Chin, a National Geographic photographer and professional climber and skier who has a big following in Sun Valley, met Chouinard and Tompkins when first he first started climbing. Their good friend and fellow adventurer Rick Ridgeway taught Chin how to film.

“I’ve known Yvon 20 years and, even to this day when I spend time with him, I’m in shock that I’m hanging with Yvon,” he said.

Chin said he was totally moved by the love Doug and Kris Tompkins had for one another.

“I’ve never seen anything like it…and then what they were trying to create—. Doug and Kris and their love for each other and how that passion enabled them to create something.”

The film is also about Kris taking risks and leaving her position atop Patagonia when she finds the love of her life and a purpose to move to Chile where she was eventually able to take hers and Doug’s dream to fruition.

Chin acknowledged Chouinard’s decision to give away his multi-billion-dollar company to fight the Earth’s climate devastation.

“They’re of a generation that’s not about talking but about walking the walk. They’re not interested in notoriety. They go about what they do quietly.”

Chin said the idea for the film came about when Kris Tompkins invited him to accompany her on a climb of one of her late husband’s favorite Chilean peaks in 2016--a year after Doug died of hypothermia after the two-man kayak in which he was paddling capsized.

“I offered to shoot the film for posterity and it snowballed,” Chin said.

The film was seven years in the making, he said—he and Vasarhelyi were doing “Free Solo” at the same time: “I hope people see it and realize what a few people with vision and commitment can achieve.”

Disney executive Chris Albert, who has endowed the Sun Valley Film Festival with a National Geographic touch since its beginning, evidenced his love for the film.

“Right now, on any scorecard nature is losing,” he said. “I hope people look at this and ask: What can we do today to save the planet?”

COMING UP:

The Sun Valley Film Festival will have an exclusive screening of the highly anticipated new film “Air” at 1:30 p.m. Sunday, April 2. The screening will be followed by a Q&A with the film’s screenwriter Alex Convery and producer Jason Michael Berman.

The screening is a part of the SVFF Private Patron Screening series for festival patrons and Student Passholders.

The film is a comedic heartfelt film about the game changing partnership between then-basketball rookie Michael Jordan and Nike’s fledgling basketball division, which revolutionized contemporary culture with the Air Jordan brand.

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