Jen Randall: Projecting Mina

project_mina_posterLast December Light Shed Pictures released Project Mina, a climbing documentary about British climber Mina Leslie-Wujastyk. It is quite a unique film that touches all aspects of Mina’s climbing career, from the hard indoor training to rock climbing and the high-pressure environment of international competitions.

Project Mina is an intimate and emotional journey. Yes, there are hard problems being sent; yes, there is campus boarding, abs and push-ups. But the movie is mainly the personal story of Mina and her struggles with her own ambitions and limitations, and the hard work she puts in to trying to overcome the latter.

Following Mina for several months, from her training sessions to the World Cups and the outdoors, this film lets us peak behind the curtain of high-end climbing. And, surprise, it may not be as glamorous as you might think.

We’ve contacted Jen Randall, the filmmaker behind Project Mina, to ask her about how the movie came into being and what has she learnt from the process.

Why did you decide to focus on Mina?
I wanted to find out how a person gets so good at climbing – how they train, what they eat, what the formula for success is I guess. I wanted to look beyond the hard sends we always see in climbing films and look at everything it takes to get to that point. I asked Mina if she would be up for making the film with me because she was the one who opened my eyes to how strong and dedicated professional climbers really are when I filmed her in Magic Wood for Push It. She is also a very thoughtful, lovely person and we got on well so I thought it would be fun to work with her again. Of course it didn’t take long to realize my original concept was a bit flawed – there is no recipe for success in climbing, so the film took on new dimensions and I think became a far better documentary as a result.

When did the project start and how long did it take?
We started filming in January 2013 and kept working until July or August. We then had to take several months away from the project due to other work commitments, which was frustrating as it meant we couldn’t release the film when we had originally planned. But this turned out to be a valuable time as it let the story ‘cook’ and take shape in my brain. You don’t often get the luxury of so much time to let your film develop. We then finished filming in May 2014, so it was by far the longest time I’ve ever spent on one film.

How was the process? Did you know the story you wanted to tell beforehand or did you discover the story along the way?
It was quite a natural process. I had the bare bones of a concept in my head – exploring how a climber gets to an elite level – but you never know what will happen with a documentary. We did lots of interviews, I filmed parts of Mina’s training routine, went with her to competitions, filmed her climbing outdoors and so on. Through getting to know Mina better the film started to develop and change, which is always exciting! I think if you approach documentary-making with too rigid an idea or plan, it won’t be a successful film because it will lose its authenticity. You can’t predict life or force it into a certain shape, so we didn’t try to do that with Project Mina.

What did you learn about the life of professional climbers?
I definitely learnt that there’s no one way to get strong and start winning comps or sending your projects, every climber has specific plans, exercises, etc. which help or hinder their progress. Something that really struck me at the World Cups was that the team was there on their own. I assumed there would be a team manager or coach around to support the climbers, but there was no one except the other team members. Being a pro climber doesn’t look like an easy ride to me, it clearly takes a ton of dedication and hard work, but even then doesn’t come with any guarantees. Saying that, it was great to see the love Mina has for what she does.

Filmmaker Jen Randall ready to boulder. Pic from Light Shed Pictures' Facebook Page.

Filmmaker Jen Randall ready to boulder. Pic from Light Shed Pictures’ Facebook Page.

And what have you learnt about your own craft?
Through making Project Mina and Push It, I’ve learnt that when you make honest work, allowing yourself to be vulnerable, admitting it when you’re finding something hard, audiences appreciate that. You don’t always have to be banging your chest and telling everyone how great you are – everyone on the planet can relate to another person’s struggle, and like to see some one going for it, whatever their ‘it’ may be. In terms of my craft, I guess this project has confirmed that story comes first.

What’s you outlook on the climbing “entertainment” industry? Nowadays there are tons of climbing videos available for free, is there still people willing to pay for a climbing documentary?
I think the climbing entertainment industry is in fairly good shape at the moment. I haven’t been part of it for particularly long, but it seems to me that there’s room for everything out there, and although there is access to lots and lots of free content online, there is of course still an appetite for good quality work out there, which thankfully, people seem willing to pay for.

Thanks a lot to Jen for her answers. You can buy Project Mina here.

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