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Film Review: 180° South

June 1, 2010

In 1968, Yvon Chouinard, Doug Tompkins, and several friends piled into a van and set out on a globe-traversing, 10,000 mile trip from the Pacific Northwest to Patagonia in the southernmost tip of South America.  This journey would change how they viewed the world, and 40 years later, old film footage of the expedition would inspire a modern adventure and a documentary, entitled 180° SouthThe movie is currently on a national tour, and is scheduled for a June 8th DVD release.  I had a chance to see the film during its short stop in Minneapolis, and I was struck by how well it combines a story of voyage and adventure with an environmental message.

180° South focuses on lifelong journeyman Jeff Johnson, who has embarked on a multi-month journey with the ultimate goal of reaching Patagonia and climbing Cerro Corcovado.  Johnson’s quest is inspired in part by Mountain of Storms, an old film chronicling Tompkins and Chouinard’s late ‘60s Patagonia trip.  Tompkins and Chouinard both went on to achieve incredible success, but their worldviews were heavily shaped by their time in Patagonia.  Tompkins founded clothing company The North Face, Inc. but left the business world in the late 1980s to dedicate his time to environmental causes, including preserving the ecosystem of Patagonia, where he has purchased over 2 million acres of land now dedicated to conservation.  Chouinard founded the active wear company Patagonia, Inc. and continues to promote environmental causes through his work.  Chouinard was the driving force behind the creation of 1% For the Planet, an alliance of businesses who commit at least one percent of annual sales to the environment.

Much of the film is spent capturing the sense of adventure brought about by Johnson’s expedition.  Johnson spends several months on a small boat, and at one point a broken mast causes him to spend an unexpected month on Easter Island, where he befriends a local surfer who possesses a passion for adventure equal to his own.  The upbeat soundtrack features a song by Minnesota’s own Mason Jennings, a free download of which is being used to promote the film.

At times the film takes a more serious tone.  This is most noticeable when Johnson finally arrives in Chile and meets up with Chouinard and Tompkins, who now live in the region and work for the group Conservacion Patagonica.  The two paint a grim picture of a possible future for the area.  Currently, there are ongoing efforts to place hydroelectric dams in Patagonia, and there is a movement led by local ranchers trying to stop the impending development.

For me, the strongest aspect of the film was its ability to push the viewer to explore the outdoors.  In the film, Chouinard makes clear his belief that ecosystems like Patagonia are at risk because people do not go into wild places.  They feel no connection to them and therefore do not care when they are threatened with destruction.  180° South is worth seeing for its interesting take on energy, sustainable development and environmentalism.  If you want to witness a chaotic adventure, or you are just looking for motivation to get outside, do not hesitate to check out 180° South on DVD next week.

For more info check out the official site.

Note: views expressed in Centered on Sustainability are the opinion of the post’s author and do not necessarily represent the opinion of the Minnesota Project.

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