I was a little upset with something yesterday evening and decided I needed to watch a documentary. So I hopped on Netflix and came across 180° South. Here’s the film’s description:

“Inspired by pioneering outdoorsman Yvon Chouinard’s freewheeling 1968 van trip to Patagonia, South America, a band of bliss-seeking surfer-mountaineers sets out — in 2007, by boat — to remake the journey in this adventure documentary…”

It’s a documentary about a journey, a journey to climb Patagonia’s Cerro Corcovado. And later, it’s a documentary that captures about the environment impact of progression.

It’s a very tastefully done documentary. It’s unique in many ways. And although it’s not really a ‘film’ (or is it), I want to try to examine it from the 6 approaches in Corrigan’s reading.

Film History
Made in 2010, the documentary is well-placed in the era of global-warming, globalization, the loss of natural habitat, etc, where the audience is well-place to understand these rising environmental and socio concerns.

The film/documentary also has a certain ‘Indie’ feel to it, not quite home-made, but perhaps independent.

In terms of the reception received, it has a fairly good rating over at Rotten Totatoes (80%). IMDB also rate it at 7.6 out of 10 from 650 votes.

It has a book out with the same title that provides more context and photographs/visuals. In one of the three reviews, it reads,

“See the movie, read the book. I really don’t understand why this book isn’t more popular.”

I would say I share the same sentiment.

National Cinemas
I think it’s quite apparent that the documentary/film is speaking to the issue of environmental impacts of progression.

While there are introduction of natives from Easter Island and Chile, the documentary is still filmed by an American director. The perspective of the issue may be perceived differently.

For example, someone in the States when viewing this film might have an urge to go out and climb or surf, as well as perhaps helping out with the cause, to preserve the ‘open country’.

Whereas for others, say Chilean who viewed this film, their sentiment might surround something in regard to their livelihood – the fishes that are disappearing from the ocean, or the land they lost to the dams.

It’s not hard to categorize 180° South as a documentary as it documents a man’s journey to relive a trip.

Yet, perhaps there are sub-categories that this specific form of documentary can be labeled with.

I would argue that this ‘genre’ of documentary is a rather new form of documentary that we are seeing more in recent years. It is not just an introduction to a place or an event, but intrigue us with the personal experiences – in this case, a lifestyle of living in the open country for 6-month at a time.

Quotes like the following is bound to capture the audience’s mind and entice a certain lifestyle or behavior,

“You know where I want to be right now…is right here. Nowehere else, not in the future, not in the past.”

The music also plays a part in shaping the experience of the audience. The music matches the mood and moment quite well, evidently through the pairing of the lyrics and the specific scenes.

I don’t think it’s easy to categorize this specific film since the director is a fairly new at this. But if we take a step back and look at the characteristic of Jeff Johnson, judging from his own narration and others’ commentaries, there’s perhaps a certain identity to this sort of film.

Maybe this can be associated to one of the naturalist or outdoorsy style of film.

Kinds of Formalism
There is a certain pattern with the way the shots are arranged. There is always something personal placed in the midst of something bigger. For example, there will be a shot of Jeff Johnson’s current situation before the camera pans to the ocean or the mountains.

The voices that you will hear in the documentary is also well crafted. The scenes where the interviewee speaks are crafted in very carefully. Other time, the narration by Jeff Johnson dominates any human voice you will hear in the film. This actually give a sort of ‘pure’ feel to the documentary. A sense of cleanness of the open country, perhaps.

There is a definite clear ideology as you progress through the film. It went from a purely self-motivated ‘project’ to something bigger, at least in terms of the message that it is trying to voice.

However, there are hints of commercialism and product placement 3/4 way through the film as more ‘patagonia’ products start to pop up.

In this documentary, I think the ideology is the outdoors, and quoting Jeff Johnson, “When open country is gone, we will be gone with it.” And in here he’s not talking about our physical body, but our ‘soul’ as mentioned earlier in the documentary.

It was a wonderfully crafted documentary and it definitely invoked plenty of thoughts and emotions throughout. After watching it, now I want to work out more so I can go out and surf, and climb. Who knows, maybe one day I will get to climb the North American wall in the Yosemite.