In 1968, Yvon Chouinard and Doug Tompkins traveled to Patagonia (Argentina) to mark the third ascent to Mount Fitzroy, considered one of the most technically challenging mountains in the world—they made a movie about their trek and later became well-known environmentalists. In 2009, Jeff Johnson made the same journey…and 180° South: Conquerors of the Useless is a documentary about his trek.
The documentary weaves together interviews, pictures, and film footage of Chouinard and Tompkins, the first Americans to make the climb, but is focused on Johnson’s journey. Johnson’s background as a young surfer and climber translates into a keen eye for beautiful imagery, thoughtful commentary, and a courageous effort at a very challenging endeavor.
His journey begins on a sailboat which, of course, leads to the first challenge: shipwrecked. “The word adventure has just gotten overused. For me, adventure is when everything goes wrong…that’s when the adventure starts.”
Fortunately for Johnson, he’s shipwrecked on Rapa Nui, also known as Easter Island, a remote island that has intrigued explorers for years: “Coming to Rapa Nui is like going back to the past. The people have the history in their blood.” He meets Makohe, a native woman, who joins him for his trek.
It’s a mountaineering challenge at Mount Fitzroy, but the group tackles it with confidence, faith, and, of course, good equipment.
With images of sailing, surfing, and climbing—including breaking waves, exotic fish and animals, and striking landscapes, anyone with a remote interest in adventure sports and travel will find the movie inspiring. It’s also (what I would call) a “thinking man’s adventure story” as some of the experiences cause Johnson to analyze society and its impact on the environment.
An excellent soundtrack (mostly featuring Ugly Casanova) completes the backdrop of Johnson’s transformative and thought-provoking story:
“I left home six months ago to follow in the footsteps of my heroes—a bit of surfing, some climbing, lots of unspoiled terrain…pretty simple, really. Well, I got all that. But along the way, I’ve also realized the connections I never thought much about. In these four corners of the world I’ve seen encroaching progress and most of this has to do with overconsumption elsewhere.”
Watch 180° South to explore Patagonia, explore sailing, surfing, and climbing…and explore your thoughts on the environment and the way it’s rapidly changing under today’s pressures.
Title: 180° South: Conquerors of the Useless
Rating: Not Rated
Studio: Magnolia Home Entertainment
Actors: Jeff Johnson, Yvon Chouinard, Doug Tompkins
Directors: Chris Malloy
Release Date: June 8, 2010
10-digit ASIN number: B003DNLLN6
**Photo courtesy of Martin St-Amant – Wikipedia