What inspires mountain lifers to choose to live among the remote splendour and beckoning spirit of B.C.’s mountains?
That question is explored in director/cinematographer/editor Grant Baldwin’s new documentary “This Mountain Life.”
Produced by the Knowledge Network, the documentary has won critical acclaim and awards. It was named one of the Top 20 audience favourites at hotDOCs, was an official selection at the 2018 Vancouver and Calgary International Film Festivals, the Banff Mountain Film and Book Festival and the Aspen Film Festival.
It has been described as “an absolutely breathtaking documentary” and a “love letter to the outdoors.”
The film features Bernhard and Mary Thor, who tell their story of living off the grid for five decades at their fairy tale home “somewhere beyond Anderson Lake.”
Mary Thor told the News the filmmakers from Peg Leg Films “persevered to find us surviving since 1969. In spite of all, thriving on this barren clear-cut, logged-off, initially forlorn mountainside. And since 2003 without a BC Rail Service - and now 2018 so relieved that ‘Hell may finally have frozen over’ since summer’s wildfires...So far we've not been derailed! Call it crazy or true grit and determination to secure roots and a sense for belonging away from the city, since Bernhard escaped East Germany.”
The 80-minute documentary also focuses on a group of nuns living at the Queen of Peace retreat high above Squamish; mother and daughter team Tania and Martina Halik, who set off on a six-month, 2,300-kilometre trek along the Coast Mountain Range from Squamish to Alaska; pilot/photographer Todd Weselake, who was buried for 20 minutes in an avalanche under four metres of snow; and an alpine guide, skiers and a snow artist.
“Everyone we know who saw the film in the Vancouver area was very impressed by what they saw,” says Mary Thor. “Grant Baldwin is a primo cinematographer and adventurer in his own right. From a woman’s point of view and as other women commented, I feel very happy to say this film really had a great balance of male and female mountaineers. We cannot speak any other way than highly for the Peg Leg Film folks and their hard work.”
Baldwin and his team learned about the Thors from a rock climber featured in the film. He is a friend of Bernhard’s son Lawrence, who spoke to him about growing up in the Anderson Valley.
“Lawrence spoke to Wolfe of his upbringing, home schooling and living off the grid, mostly from our home grown dairy products, meats and vegetables produced by my wife Mary from a side hill clear-cut. With horse power since 1970, together we turned our lease-developed purchase into a hand-made homestead,” explained Bernhard.
As an artist, Bernhard Thor has produced four one-man shows of drawings, sculptures, and paintings in Vancouver, Brackendale, Lillooet and Whistler.
He says he’s also worked “on every locally available job – setting chokers, pulling lumber at the mill, slashing for BC Hydro, high-scaling for BC Rail and as a dry-waller, painter and stonemason.
And why have the Thors chosen to live their “Mountain Life” for all these years?
Mary Thor answers, “The film participants share a common thread in their love of these awe inspiring B.C. mountains. Each, in our way, is on a journey, our own personal ‘Vision Quests’ if you will. We seek to test the depth and height of spirit with the solitude gained, challenging ourselves to discover our human dimensions, strength and durability with the help of our specific mountain environment.”
She concluded, “Bernhard and I especially choose now to share our sanctity with the wildlife who gift us with their presence. Bernhard explains this location via Goethe’s saying: ‘Here I am human and Here I may be so.’ Certainly our animal ‘neighbours’ may also exist peacefully.”