Film Review: Being Here

BEING HERE from Outdoor Research on Vimeo.

But this tumbling wild landscape reminds me of all the parts inside me that are tumbling and wild…

“Being Here”, a 5-minute film written and directed by Hilary Oliver, is an ode to the wild that is in and outside of us. “Being Here” is a visual journal entry, nostalgia for your female tribe, a meditation on the medicine of the mountains.

Oliver called on the talent of her friend Becca Skinner, an adventure and lifestyle photographer to help her with filming. It shows–“Being Here” is full of early morning and evening streams of gold light and soft focus that tugs on the heart strings, hard.

“Being Here” is sentimental, but you love it for that. Oliver jokes that her writing reads “like bad poetry”–I think it reads like the journal entry I never wrote. It is real, it is unedited, it is female. I love it for that.

As a city-dweller, I resonate painfully with Oliver’s feelings around feeling trapped in the routine of concrete life. Too often I go months, sometimes even a year without returning to what is wild and quiet. So to me, Oliver’s “Being Here” feels like a call, and I am responding. Time to rally my troops, and return to those tumbling wild landscapes.

-Sasha Turrentine


Photo by Becca Skinner

Flash Foxy: You’re a writer, correct? Was the narrator you, reading your own writing? 

Hilary Oliver: I’m a writer by trade. My background is in magazines, and lately I’ve been writing mostly for the web. Lots of essay and travel/adventure pieces for places like Adventure Journal or the REI blog. I’d been journaling about the feelings I had on desert trips, and I didn’t know exactly what to do with the words. It was kind of like bad poetry, and I thought some imagery and music might make the words come to life in a way that other people might relate to or enjoy.

And yes, the narrator is me. I wrote out a script, and sent it to my friend Becca Skinner, a talented photographer. I asked if she might want to collaborate on a project that would bring those words to life, and thankfully she said yes.

FF: What inspired you to make a film? Have you made a film before?

HO: I’d never worked on a film before. I’ve been to so many adventure film festivals, and often left feeling like there was a certain lack of women’s voices and women’s stories. There are a few out there—a growing number, for sure—but hardly equal to our actual participation in the outdoors. I felt like instead of complaining about that or making a big deal of it, I should just go ahead and tell my own story, which I hoped was actually the story of many people.

I had no experience directing or producing, but Becca had some film experience. So I just wrote out a shot list, and invited a handful of friends out to the desert for a few days to shoot. It was pretty exhausting, trying to get the good light in the morning and the evening and getting to the scenic spots that would make for good shots. Organizing people and schedules was actually one of the bigger challenges for me, and I was lucky to have a great group of friends who were psyched and willing to follow direction. At that point, we were all just doing it for fun, because we believed in the project. None of us knew whether or not we’d ever see a paycheck for it. One of my friends actually ended up in the ER during the shoot—getting two staples in her knee—when she just barely went off the edge of a bouldering pad.

FF: How did it all come together?

HO: Becca and I both shot footage, trying to make the most of the time we had with our friends. We just shot with our DSLRs. My sister has a background in film and had been working as an editor, most recently at the Banff Centre. For part of the editing process she was living in Australia and we had meetings over Google Hangouts, and thankfully she wound up in Colorado for a bit. We holed up in my apartment for a week and ironed out the final cut. I had an outline of how I wanted the film to be structured—that’s what I’d built my shot lists from. And when it came time to actually putting it together, Whitney started with the music and built the imagery onto that structure to help the piece move with the song, emotionally.

FF: Any roadblocks?
HO: One of my biggest fears throughout the project was actually the music situation—I had that Odesza track in mind almost from the very beginning and was afraid we wouldn’t be able to afford the rights to it. I didn’t have any money going into the project. I just started working on it, trying to make it the very best we could, and hoping that maybe a sponsor might like it and help out later on in the process. Sarah Wood, who was the executive director of the 5Point Adventure Film Festival at the time, watched an early version of it and gave some wonderful feedback, hooked us up with a little funding and also introduced me to Odesza’s manager. Sarah is a huge advocate for women in adventure films, and was really helpful throughout the process. After we had a solid rough cut, we showed a couple of potential sponsors, and both Outdoor Research and Chaco jumped on. I believe I still would have been happy to make the film without any money just because it was something from my heart—that’s why I dived into it in the first place. But for all the weeks of work I put into it, it was great to be able to come out in the black and also be able to pay my collaborators.

FF: As a writer, was it difficult to translate your words to visuals?

HO: In this case, it was not difficult to translate words into visuals. Really, I had all those visuals (or something similar) in mind as I wrote it. The words I wrote were kind of vague and general, but I had very specific sensual experiences in mind as I wrote the words. So I just tried to captures some of that on video—and Becca is the mistress of light-filled shots. She did a wonderful job of nabbing the moments of light and laughter.

FF: Has this process furthered your interest in visual story telling? Do you think you will make more films?

HO: Working on this piece definitely increased my interest in visual storytelling. Right now I’m working on some scripting and story-shaping for two other short films, one about mountain biking and one about a climber. I’m super thrilled to help contribute to this area, specifically to projects that are putting female characters and voices out there. I think there’s a huge hunger for seeing complex, interesting female characters on screen. Women are so diverse and complicated, and most of the characters we’ve seen on screen have been pretty one-dimensional. So I’m really excited to dive in and try to help tease out the best parts of some of these stories and try to share adventure tales in a way that’s not clichéd.

FF: Any advice for aspiring women film makers in the outdoor industry?

My one piece of advice to aspiring female filmmakers would be—okay this is actually two: 1) Just do it. Don’t wait around till the perfect time when you feel super qualified to do the project. Men don’t do that—more often than women, they just dive in and figure it out during the process. You can do that, too. That’s what we did. And, 2) Look past the angle of women doing something that typically only men have done. We really need deeper, more interesting stories. Those stories are all over—we all have them inside us. Do some journaling about the complexities of your outdoor experience, or do a really heart-to-heart, deep interview with someone and you’ll probably find a more interesting angle than simply “rah! rah! we’re women!” The stories are out there—we’ve just got to tease them out and share them in an organized, compelling way.

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