verticallifemagazine 24.11.2023




Why we love it

Director Michelle Smith is a storytelling powerhouse, and this year she’s back with another remarkable tale of resilience and athletic achievement. You might be familiar with Michelle’s work through her 2018 Mountainfilm Festival debut with the endearing and empowering short film, “The Frenchy”. What you might not know, is that Michelle’s road to becoming an adventure film director was anything but linear, and that it was her own experience of resilience and recovery that enabled Adrien Costa’s story to be authentically told in her latest project, “Transcendence”.

The film follows Adrien’s journey from his origins as a 21-year-old rising American pro-cycling star, to later exiting the sport in pursuit of climbing, and documenting his recovery from a subsequent climbing accident that resulted in the loss of his right leg, through pursuing his alpinism goals with mentor, Mark Allen. Michelle is known for her ability to bring the stories of unique people to new heights in film, but the nuance she brings to the storytelling in “Transcendence” feels different. That’s largely because, in this project, Michelle isn’t telling Adrien’s story for him. Instead, she’s empowered him to tell it in his own words, which is a subtlety that not only hugely influences the overall authenticity of the film, but is born from her own lived experience of surviving a near-fatal climbing accident in the mountains.

Michelle’s foray into filmmaking came through documenting her own harrowing fall and subsequent recovery, when in 2010 she suffered a broken back and shattered right leg while climbing the Enclosure Couloir on the Grand Teton. As her partner stabilised her and organised a rescue, she pulled out her camera and began to film what was not only her own life-altering moment, but the start of her recovery journey, ultimately resulting in a new career as a filmmaker. When Michelle sat down with VL to tell us what was at the heart of the film, she said that “it’s [Transcendence] not just about falling down and getting back up again. It’s about Adrien’s journey of accepting what happened and saying ‘this is the new me. How am I going to grow as a person from it, and where is it going to lead me to?’”, which for Michelle, is a moment everyone can relate to.

Michelle’s reflection on what she hopes audiences will take away from watching the film, perfectly captures why we love it; “we wanted to tell this story because we’ve all had our own experiences in life that have been hard to get through and those that have been traumatic, or life-altering in some way, and no matter what the outcome is, there’s always a process afterwards of being forced to reinvent yourself”. It’s through a lens only available to those with lived experience, that Michelle captures the richness in Adiren’s journey as a climber and an athlete, and makes us feel like a supportive friend as his journey unfolds on the screen.