Legendary climber Alex Lowe’s son reckons with his death in new movie


Max Lowe directs “Torn” in Bozeman. (Courtesy photo)
Alex Lowe (right) with Max in Zion National Park, Utah. (Jennifer Lowe-Anker / Courtesy photo)

Max Lowe was 10 years old when his father, mountaineer superstar Alex Lowe, died in an avalanche during an expedition to Tibet in October 1999.

Alex’s best friend and climbing partner, Conrad Anker, married Alex’s widow and raised Max and the sons of his two brothers. Now a filmmaker, Max has used his camera as a therapeutic tool for himself and his family, attempting to take into account the trauma of their loss through intimate interviews and digging through Alex’s archives at their Bozeman home.

The result is “Torn,” a revealing and radically intimate documentary which premieres Monday at Aspen Film’s Academy Screenings. Produced by National Geographic, the film has been on tour in the United States since the Telluride Film Festival and recently had its theatrical premiere in New York.

The Lowes and Anker were finally able to recover Alex’s remains from the Shishapangma avalanche site in 2016. But the process failed to come to a conclusion, Max Lowe recalled in a recent video interview. Instead, it had the opposite effect and caused him to overcome his trauma with his family on film.

“If anything, that opened the door for me,” Lowe said. “That’s what made ‘Torn’ still unfathomable to me. If that hadn’t happened, I probably wouldn’t have explored any of these things in my life. It has been a wild journey to work everything this way. “

Lowe turned to documentaries like Sarah Polley’s “Stories We Tell” and Bing Liu’s “Minding the Gap” as his film stars, dismissing the idea of ​​objectivity and instead placing viewers in his perspective as he tells his story.

“I was inspired by other filmmakers who took that leap in vulnerability and put themselves into the stories they tell that way,” Lowe said.

The camera and the interview process created a space for him and his mother, Anker and his brothers to speak in a way they had never had before, he found.

“That’s the magic of cinema,” Lowe said with a laugh. “You have this bigger goal. … When you sit down to tell a story and sit in it, it gives you that allowance to be vulnerable.

Anker clearly wanted to use the filmmaking process to open up and try to heal his strained relationship with Max. “Torn” shows him sitting down for his first interview with Max, closing his eyes and taking a long, deep breath. He then opens his eyes and says “Let’s go!”

“Honestly, I was most concerned about his interview,” Lowe said. “I didn’t know if it would open. Because that’s not really his character. That he was brave enough and loved me enough to sit down and open up like he did was really special.

Widely acclaimed on the festival circuit, “Torn” began to reach the general public. It’s a crossover of the mountain film subculture centering on Telluride Mountainfilm, Banff Mountain Film Festival – where “Torn” won Best Feature Film – 5Point Film and others, following in the footsteps of Jimmy Chin’s Academy Award -winning “Free Solo.”

Alex Lowe hangs over the edge of a cliff atop a peak on the Patton Glacier, Ellsworth Mountains, Antarctica 1998. (Courtesy Photo / Gordon Wiltsie)

“I made this movie in the hope that it would reach a larger audience of people and people who don’t know anything about rock climbing but know something about family and loss,” Lowe said. “I think anyone who has suffered any loss can relate to our history in some way. And it was powerful enough to hear the comments.

During a screening in Manhattan the day before our interview, Lowe said he asked several people to share their own stories of losing family and friends with him. It was a sign to him that the film hit the mark he hoped for.

“It’s rooted in rock climbing, because that’s the world my family is in,” Lowe said. “But for me, it’s more of a family story and how we go through life and come across these big, painful things together and go through them.”

Today, facing the audience and the media and sharing the film with a global audience is still part of the healing process, which remains unfinished.

“I keep telling myself that I can’t question the process,” he said.

Lowe has directed short films and worked on the commercial side of outdoor cinema, but “Torn” is his first feature film. It is likely to create opportunities for him to do more. He’s not sure what his next project might be, but he thinks he knows what he won’t be after the heartbreaking experience of “Torn”.

“It would be nice not to tell a story about my own life,” he said.

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