Max Lowe was 10 years old when his father, superstar climber Alex Lowe, died in an avalanche on a mission to Tibet in October 1999.
Alex’s best friend and partner, Conrad Anker, married Alex’s widow and raised Max and his two brothers’ sons. Now a director, Max used his camera as a healing tool for himself and his family, trying to calculate the trauma of their loss in personal interviews and digging into Alex’s archives at their home in Bozeman.
The result is “Split”, a revealing and radically familiar documentary that will be screened on Monday at the Aspen Film Academy. Produced by National Geographic, the film is touring the US at the Telluride Film Festival and recently premiered in New York.
Lowes and Anker finally managed to retrieve Alex’s remains from the avalanche site in Shishapangma in 2016. But the process did not lead to closure, Max Lowe recalls in a recent video interview. Instead, it had the opposite effect and led him to face his trauma with his family in the movies.
“If nothing else, he opened the door for me,” Lowe said. “That’s what made ‘Torn’ even obvious to me. If it had not happened, I probably would never have delved into any of these things in my life. It was a wild journey, which I work on all this way. “
Lowe saw documentaries such as Sarah Polley’s “Stories We Tell” and Bing Liu’s “Minding the Gap” as a movie star, shaking off the idea of objectivity and instead placing viewers in his perspective as he tells his story.
“I was inspired by other filmmakers who had made this leap into a vulnerable position and put themselves in the stories they tell this way,” Lowe said.
The camera and the interview process created a space for him and his mom and Anker and his siblings to speak in a way they had never said before, he discovered.
“It’s cinematic magic,” Lowe laughed. “It simply came to our notice then. “When you sit down to tell a story and put yourself in it, it gives you that bonus of being vulnerable.”
Anker clearly wanted to use the filmmaking process to open up and try to heal his troubled relationship with Max. “Torn” shows him sitting for his first interview with Max, closing his eyes and taking a deep, deep breath. Then he opens his eyes and says “Let’s do this!”
“Honestly, I was more concerned with his interview,” Lowe said. “I did not know if it would open. Because that’s not really his character. “Having him be brave enough and love me enough to sit back and open up the way he did was really special.”
With great recognition in the festival circuit, “Torn” begins to reach the mainstream audience. It transcends the subculture of mountain cinema with a focus on Telluride Mountainfilm, the Banff Mountain Film Festival – where “Torn” won Best Feature Film – 5Point Film and the like, following in the footsteps of Jimmy Chin’s Oscar-winning “Free” . . »
“I made this film in the hope that it would reach a larger audience of people and people who know nothing about climbing but know something about family and loss,” Lowe said. “I think anyone who has experienced any kind of loss can relate to our history in some way. And it was very possible to hear the comments. “
In a Manhattan show the night before our interview, Lowe said he got several people to tell him their own stories of losing family and friends. This was a sign to him that the film was hitting the mark he hoped would happen.
“It has its roots in climbing, because this is the world my family is in,” Lowe said. “But for me, it’s more of a family story and how we get through life and deal with these big painful things together and get through it.”
Now dealing with the public and the media and sharing the film with a global audience is still part of the healing process, which remains unfinished.
“I just say to myself, I can not question the process,” he said.
Lowe has turned short and worked on the commercial side of outdoor filmmaking, but “Torn” is his first feature film. It is possible to create opportunities for him to do more. He is not sure what his next project may be, but he believes he knows what it will not be like after the incredible “Torn” experience.
“It would be nice not to tell a story about my own life,” he said.
“Falls down a lot. Unapologetic alcohol guru. Travel specialist. Amateur beer trailblazer. Award-winning tv advocate. Hipster-friendly twitter aficionado”