Premiering March 18th, Patagonia’s film Mile for Mile documents the story of Patagonia, Inc. ultrarunner ambassadors Krissy Moehl, Luke Nelson, and Jeff Browning, on the first 106-mile trail run through the future Patagonia National Park. The film tells the story of their great adventure, as well as the story of the Patagonia Park project. This December, in between runs, shoots, and interviews, we had the pleasure of getting to know the film crew, led by their trusty director James ‘Q’ Martin. An Arizona native, Q is the co-founder of the Rios Libres Project, a small organization that uses multimedia to help keep Patagonia wild.
When was your first trip to the Patagonia region?
The first time I went to Patagonia was in 1999 when I flew into Santiago, Chile and drove with French photographer Xavier Chanut all the way to the Fitz Roy Range. That’s when I really discovered the Aysen region. One of my favorite parts of that trip was spending New Years Eve in Rio Tranquillo while the whole Y2K thing was going down. It was fun being in the middle of nowhere at the bottom of the planet. And I thought, if everything goes to hell I’ll just stay here!
Ironically I drove through the [Chacabuco Valley] before it was a park when we crossed through [the border at] Paso Roballos. That was also the first time I saw the Rio Baker, and I remember thinking, oh my god this is such a special, special place. Back then a lot of northern Patagonia was not on the map. That trip was kind of the reason that Rios Libres started. Later on I read Kris’s environmental article about the proposed dams. That’s when I put two and two together.
How did the idea for the run come about?
Luke and Krissy had both been super inspired by the work we had done at Rios Libres, bringing awareness to the HidroAysén project in Patagonia. They approached me and wanted to use their running to bring awareness to the HidroAysén project. Luke told me about his 70 mile run [with fellow Patagonia, Inc. ambassador Ty Draney] down the middle fork of the Salmon River and how much he had enjoyed being part of a project with a larger outreach. Krissy was already a hero of mine for her prowess as an ultra runner, and I knew about some of her work with the Conservation Alliance. The original plan was to run from the source of the Rio Baker to the ocean, documenting the run to bring awareness to the community and leverage larger media. Then when the dams were taken off the chopping block, Patagonia, Inc., who had offered to support the project, brought up the idea of supporting a run in the park and to look at some of the successes of protecting these areas in perpetuity.
What was the set up for filming the runners through their entire 106-mile trek?
Pure mahem. It was a logistical challenge. First I’d have to thank Dago Guzman [the park superintendent] for his guidance and beta that he gave us, and all the people on the CP team. Additionally, Heath Stephens, who basically stayed up for two days straight keeping everything running smoothly. We hired two local mountain guides from Cochrane, Lucho and Carlos, who collected GPS coordinates in advance for the potential problem areas since we weren’t able to preview the whole run beforehand. We had a film crew of five people and two vehicles, and one of the five was Jonathan Byers who also runs ultra races. He ran about 40 miles with the runners. At 4am on the first day, we were able to follow [the runners] from Chile Chico using a combination of foot and truck. Then we followed them into the Jeinimeni Reserve, and we were able to video them for a short way. At that point they went over a huge river crossing, and Jonathan stayed with them for [those] 40 miles leading to the Casa Piedra Campground and into the park. We had to drive 60 or 70 miles around to meet them at Casa Piedra the next day. In the morning, a local guide Lucho and I hiked up [Mount] Tamanguito and videoed them coming up. I ran out with them to the edge of the reserve, and then hopped in the truck again. There was a lot of the run that we weren’t able to video, so all of the runners had GoPro cameras. Every five miles we asked them to stop and do a GoPro selfi check in. [To film the runners] we used a really cool contraption called a Movi system that allows the camera to be on a three access gimbal [stabilizer], and the camera will stay steady on the back of the truck or in someone’s hands while running. Jonathan is 6’ 4”, and so some of the shots look like they are taken from the helicopter, but actually Jonathan just has really long and strong arms.
We used two different stabilizing devices, the Movi and the DSLRPros 3-Axis Gopro Stabilizer. [The stick] is essentially a one-foot wand that stabilizes the GoPro while you run. We used a camera called the Panasonic GH4, which shoots 4K (super high resolution), and slow motion as well. The rest was a whole quiver of Canon DSLRs, mostly the 5D Mark III. For one day we had the RED EPIC Dragon, which shoots 6K. Andy Maser, an award winning cinematographer, helped us out for a couple of day of shooting. The runners used four different GoPro3s that CLIF Bar loaned us for the shoot.
What was the hardest part to capture?
The hardest part was really all of it. When I say that, I mean we wanted the park to be its own character. We really [spent] a lot of time with the different characters [including] Arcillo, Daniel, Paula, Cristián, and Dago, to get to know them and what they’re doing to restore the area. It was really challenging trying to integrate the runners into the story of the park, and then distill [the story] down into a short film. The run itself was really challenging, but overall the biggest challenge was having a ten-person crew and working simultaneously to allow the runners time to train while making time to learn and explore the realities of what it takes to create a new national park, all while capturing everything on film.
Krissy, Jeff, and Luke all seem to be on top of the world most of the movie. Were there any rock bottom moments you aren’t showing us?
They kind of were on top of the world! They were having snowball fights when we were coming off of [Mount] Tamanguito. Overall they were psyched. There were a couple of moments they captured at the end of the first day when they were all pretty haggard. It was getting late and dark. [They had been running for] 70 miles, about a 16-hour day. In all reality I have to say, the biggest inspiration that I saw was how Krissy hung with them. The guys have a much faster pace then she does on average, and what I hope comes across that they were having a lot of fun and helping each other. I know Krissy had some trouble with a few stream crossings, and she had to lean on them to get through some of those areas. They were super gracious to allow me to run with them for that section. They were all unbelievably psyched and prepared. Toward the end of the run, they just wanted to go. They call it “smelling the barn.”
Mile for Mile is 15 minutes long, but you were down at the park for several weeks. Was there a particular scene you had you wish you could have kept?
There was a scene that we shot explaining the hydroelectric project at the confluence [of the Baker and the Chacabuco Rivers], and I wish we could have kept that scene to explain all of the work that everybody has put in to keep the rivers free. [Also] it was really had to tell the story of how many partners and people behind the scenes have made Patagonia Park a reality. I wish we had had an opportunity to tell these stories. It’s just too much information and we had to keep things moving.
After completing your film, Streams of Consequence, I imagine you still follow Chile’s damn controversy closely. Has the danger of dams passed?
I feel that there is still a serious threat to the rivers in Patagonia. They hold some of the largest reserves of fresh water in the world. I’d love to see how some of these areas could be locked into national parks or world heritage sights. I am very interested in keeping my finger on the pulse for what the next step could be, to not only get the dam projects off the butcher block, but how we could figure out a way to protect these areas forever. The burgeoning world needs these hot spots of diversity protected for the future generations.
What is the big message you hope people take away from this film?
What I hope this film does is to inspire people to protect things in their own back yard and act on a local level, protecting the places they love. I hope it inspires people to be motivated and get outside to pursue athletic pursuits, but more so how they can work within their communities. It was a huge honor to have Patagonia, Inc. support the runners and me as a filmmaker, and CP was gracious enough to open up the doors and let us use all of the resources to make it happen.