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Young producer’s debut film features a pioneer of Calgary-area mountain climbing

Rob Wood climbs one more mountain in The Zone, screening in Calgary this weekend

The Zone film

The Zone follows Rob Woods as he attempts to climb Mount Van Der Est while battling Parkinson’s Disease. // Submitted

One of Canada’s pioneer ice climbers is featured in a new film, screening in Calgary this Saturday.

Rob Wood is originally from the UK, but lived in Calgary in the 70s and was a member of the Calgary Mountain Club.

Wood is well known for his many climbing achievements—he was the first to ascend routes in Banff National Park that are now very popular, such as Bourgeau Left, Cascade Falls, and Weeping Wall.

City life wasn’t for him, so Wood made his way to BC’s west coast, specifically Maurelle Island where he lives with his wife, Laurie, off-grid and self-sustained.

A few years ago, Wood wrote a book about his off-grid lifestyle called At Home in Nature: A Life of Unknown Mountains and Deep Wilderness.

The book was published by Rocky Mountain Books, which is how Wood connected with Grace Gorman.

Wood puts his strength and determination to the test once again in The Zone. // Submitted

Ascending into the world of film

Gorman was born and raised in Calgary, but now calls Victoria, BC home.

The 23-year-old has a background in photography and is the foreign rights and social media manager for Rocky Mountain Books.

“I never really thought about film until I started working for Rocky Mountain Books,” Gorman says, adding she discovered a love for film after attending the Banff Mountain Film Festival.

“Working with the amazing authors that we have, I thought that there were so many great stories that would be able to not just be in books, but also be shown in films, too.”

That’s where the idea for Wood’s latest book The Zone and the accompanying documentary came from.

The documentary follows Wood, now battling Parkinson’s Disease, on a difficult trek up Mount Van Der Est on BC’s mainland.

A passion project

Gorman was only 19 when she started producing the film. Initially, she intended to rent a camera and film the movie herself.

“I had no idea what I was getting into or anything about film or the film industry,” she says, adding she decided to bring director Rob Tomkins—who she knew through a mutual friend—on board to help.

Since the movie was a passion project, Gorman and Tomkins began crowdfunding.

Gorman says almost $70,000 was raised in about four months thanks to investors and donors who believed in the project and wanted to see it come to fruition.

The Zone is described as “a documentary of resilience and determination”.

A group of 13 including Wood and Gorman certainly put their resilience and determination to the test when they embarked on a five-day ocean alpine expedition from Maurelle Island to Mount Van Der Est.

The Zone is Gorman’s first venture as a film producer. // Submitted

Faced with a tough decision

The group hiked for eight hours up to the ridge, where Gorman was able to witness Wood in action.

“It was super inspiring,” she says, adding the film captures raw and genuine conversations about Wood’s hard-fought battles and his love of climbing.

While on the ridge, the group was faced with a crossroads due to some bad weather in the forecast.

“It was kind of a 50-50: do we push the summit and risk not being able to get out if the weather does turn bad, or do we call it here,” Gorman says.

“That was a really tough decision for the group but it was really important, and it was a turning point in the film for sure.”

Gorman doesn’t want to give too much away and hopes people will watch The Zone to see what happens.

A four-year labour of love

After a four-year labour of love, Gorman is excited for the film to be shown in Calgary, her hometown.

The screening takes place at Cardel Place on April 29 from noon until 3pm. Proceeds from the event will benefit the Parkinson Association of Alberta.

While Gorman has a few ideas in her head for her next film project, she wants to focus on The Zone and the excitement around its release.

“I think I've got to really take a look at what I've learned here before I proceed and jump into another project,” she says.

“For my first film, I've learned so much. And it's truly amazing to see how many people this film has touched.

“Rob is truly such an amazing person. So being able to share his wisdom with an audience that might not have known who he was beforehand ... I think that has been really the biggest reward in all of this.”

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