Joel Wolpert – the Wolpertinger – makes movies, takes photos, designs stuff, runs, climbs, grows his own food and does a bunch of other stuff we can’t really think of right now.
He is the man behind the camera in In the High Country (starring Anton Krupicka) and Depressions (starring Rob Krar). We spoke to Joel about those two films, ahead of their screening at the inaugural Reel Wild film festival in Auckland next week.
Your specialty, as you’ve put it yourself, is in “wrecking yourself to get the shot”. Can you give us some examples of how you had to “wreck yourself” to get some of the shots we’ll be seeing at Reel Wild?
Ahh, the majority of In the High Country was filmed around 14,000′ including some shots that probably didn’t need to. For instance, we filmed the water bottle shot on the summit of Mount Elbert, the high point of Colorado. The Depressions film was entirely filmed mid-run with Rob Krar. I did two different 2 mile long takes, one down the canyon, and then hiked around and did another 1.5 – 2 miles back up, probably 10 miles total with a 10lb camera rig. I spend a fair amount of time filming while bonking and it’s nice.
You got the idea for In the High Country from an obituary for a Brazilian football player, of all places. How did that come about?
The obit was in The Economist and was for Socrates, the Brazillian footballer. I can’t say quite why it was the inspiration, but I do remember laying on the floor of my in-laws’ house reading it and just visualizing some kind of poetic mountain running film.
You don’t seem to have much trouble keeping up with either Rob Krar or Anton Krupicka. Can you tell us a bit about your running background?
I’ve run since I was a kid and have always had pretty good balance. Those guys can definitely smoke me on an uphill, but I can hold my own downhilling.
You’re also an experienced climber. How did you move from that into trail running?
Climbing and running are more or less just different versions of the same thing. They are both interacting with the landscape with the human motor. I’ve always done both.
None of the two films we are showing at Reel Wild follow the traditional line of storytelling. They seem to work more as visual essays rather than trying to tell a story from beginning to end. What was your goal with each of them?
They were both films that I wanted to make, but I think going into each I knew how I wanted to film, but not what story there would be. The stories just present themselves as you experience them. I can’t say that I really had a goal for each of them other than getting to see how those guys live.
As well as a filmmaker, you’re also a photographer. How do you balance those two out?
Filming is like running ultras. Photography is like sprinting. They balance each other nicely. I’ve gotten a lot more film work lately, which makes me more interested in still photography…or really in just living without cameras; farming, splitting wood, and the like.
Depressions is one of the most intimate pieces of film we’ve watched in a long time. Is there any secret to getting your protagonists to give so much of themselves?
I definitely don’t go in to projects looking for that, but I do really like to learn how different humans go through life. I would rather relate well to a new person than film them, so that often comes first. I suppose another advantage is my method for filming. It often involves a long drive from West Virginia to some high-altitude area, followed immediately by some brutal runs. I think there comes some amount of respect for the wreckage of me trying to keep up, the commitment. It is living openly, fully exposed, which is a very different scene than rolling up with loads of staff and equipment. Much more of an insider’s view.
You’re travelling around New Zealand at the moment. Can you tell us a bit of what you’re working on here?
Yeah, we’re running around New Zealand working on the most intimate bromance that the trail running world might ever see [between Jason Schlarb and Jeremy Wolf].
What can we expect to see from you in the near future?
More spying and subterfuge.
We will be screening Wolpert’s In the High Country and Depressions at Reel Wild – The Kiwi Trail Running Film Festival in Auckland, on April 18th.