At the Eli Broad Stage in Santa Monica, an overflow crowd packed the theater to watch director Chris Malloy’s film 180° South, in which adventurer and surfer Jeff Johnson travels to Patagonia in the footsteps of his heroes Yvon Chouinard and Doug Tompkins. Chouinard and Tompkins, founders of the Patagonia and North Face outdoor equipment and clothing lines, respectively, traveled by land in 1968 from Ventura, California to Patagonia. There, Chouinard said, they found “an area the size of the American West with no people.” It was a place of unparalleled pristine beauty, which Tompkins remembered, “got into our souls a sense of duty.” The trip would “set the course for what we were going to do with the rest of our lives.” Both Tompkins and Chouinard have dedicated their lives and their personal fortunes to preserving Patagonia and funding various environmental causes. Tompkins and his wife started the Conservacion Patagonica Land Trust with their life savings and have saved over 2 million acres – bigger than Yellowstone National Park.
Enter Jeff Johnson. Ten years ago, he found the 16mm footage of Chouinard and Tompkins’ trip to Patagonia and knew that one day, he would follow in their footsteps. Unlike Chouinard and Tompkins, Johnson worked as a deck hand on a private boat going to Patagonia. Having never been so long at sea, Johnson was hesitant but as he said, “if I don’t get on that boat, I know what I’m going home to. If I do, my future’s unwritten.”
Yvon Chouinard said, “The adventure is when everything goes wrong. That’s when the adventure starts.” And it was true for Johnson. Not only was he plagued with near constant seasickness, his journey was delayed by weeks when boat’s mast fell over and had to be pulled out of the sea. That brought him serendipitously to Rapa Nui (Easter Island) where he was given a glimpse into our own future. When the Rapa Nui islanders began to build bigger and bigger statues, they started to compete with each other. Eventually, this demand caused the deforestation of the island and the depletion of nearly all the natural resources. A once unified people separated into tribes, which led to warfare. When it was all over, only 110 remained out of a population of 30,000. While still a beautiful spot, Rapa Nui bears the scars of its past, leading Johnson to remember the words of Aldous Huxley, “If you do not learn very much from the lessons of history, that is the lesson of history.”
Those lessons are going unheeded everywhere. Johnson shows us how the Chilean government is allowing industrial magnets to build power plants and pulp mills in what were once untouched coastal areas. The result has been catastrophic, not only to the ecosystem but to the people who live there. The fisherman who raised their children to have respect for the land and the sea now buy their mackerel in the supermarket. It has destroyed their home and their way of life. More dams are planned to be built by international energy companies beginning in 2013. The protest group “Sin Represas” (Without Dams) has launched a campaign to halt construction.
At the end of the film, Johnson arrives in Patagonia, meets up with Chouinard and Tompkins and makes an attempt to fulfill his dream of climbing Corcovado. Clearly, Jeff Johnson is a man who believes in the adventure and living authentically. In one of the most poignant moments, Yvon Chouinard speaks of plastic surgeons and CEOs who want to climb Everest. They go up there with their adventure laid out for them by people who prepare their tents, “practically leaving mints on their pillows.”
180° South takes viewers on the adventure. Who we are when we get back is up to us.
180° South will be available for rental through Netflix beginning June 8th. It is also showing at the following venues:
Portland, OR: Hollywood Theater, May 26
San Francisco, CA: Victoria Theater, May 28
Denver, CO: Landmark Chez Artiste, May 28
San Luis Obispo, CA: Fremont/Mission 4 Cinemas, June 3
Jackson, WY: Center for the Arts, June 4
More dates can be found here: http://www.woodshed.com/news-
For more information on Sin Represas and the Conservacion Patagonica: