SXSW 2018: The Dawn Wall

Tommy Caldwell climbing on The Dawn Wall. Credit: Brett Lowell.

The Dawn Wall tells the inspiring true story of Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson as they seek to climb the Dawn Wall of El Capitan.

This is a wall that nobody had ever attempted to climb before but it gave Tommy a goal.  The military veteran had come off of the hostility and tension that came after eight years in a relationship.  Climbing just wasn’t enough for the two of them.  His first wife ended up developing feelings for someone else and their marriage ended in divorce.  It’s a shame but it is what it is.

With his life in shambles, Tommy needed a new direction in his life.  This led to what else but the Dawn Wall of El Capitan.  Climbing these walls aren’t easy as conditions can be horrendous–all one has to do is look at what it takes to climb a mountain like Mount Everest.  Even though this isn’t Everest, conditions can be just as terrible.  All it takes is for the smallest of things to do wrong and things could end drastically.

Tommy makes the climb with Kevin in 2015 after failing over previous years.  Kevin doesn’t have a great go at it.  It comes down to pitch 15 for him as it quickly becomes his kryptonite has he just isn’t able to win the battle.  After taking three days to battle, KJ ends up destroying his fingers as a result.  After a rest day, it would take another 11 days with KJ using two more days of rest.  Most people would have given up at this point but there’s no quit in Kevin Jorgeson.

Ultimately, it took the two of them some 19 days to finish climbing the wall.  The two of them become the talk of the country with multiple television appearances including both SportsCenter, The Today Show, and Ellen, to name a few.  The two would be honored at places like Giants Stadium.  Tommy would end up getting re-married and have a child with his wife.  Kevin also got married.

Co-director Josh Lowell are cinematographer Brett Lowell are both avid climbers.  As such, it makes sense that Lowell would take on this project and document Tommy’s attempts to climb the wall.

The real-life events that led to The Dawn Wall are events that work best as a documentary rather than make an attempt to tell a narrative feature.  The most gripping drama comes during KJ’s battle with Pitch 15.

DIRECTORS:  Josh Lowell, Peter Mortimer
FEATURING:  Tommy Caldwell, Kevin Jorgeson

An official selection of the 2018 SXSW Film Festival, The Dawn Wall held its North American premiere as a part of the Documentary Spotlight program.

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.

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