Mountain Runners docudrama to premiere during Ski to Sea weekend

Published on Wed, May 2, 2012 by Jeremy Schwartz

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Like the original Mt. Baker Marathon runners they’re seeking to portray, the crew behind the docudrama “The Mountain Runners” has had to battle the mountain’s weather to tell the true story of the country’s first major endurance race, the Mt. Baker Marathons of 1911-1913.

Fortunately, though, all Mt. Baker has done is delay the release of the movie a few months and not banish any of the crew into an icy crevasse for six hours, as happened to one of the runners in the final year of the marathon.

Perspective really is everything.

After months of research and a year and a half of filming, director Todd Warger has set May 24 as the red-carpet premiere date for “The Mountain Runners” – right at the start of the 2012 Ski to Sea Race weekend – at the Pickford Film Center. Tickets are $25 and are on sale now.

Warger said May 24 felt natural because the Ski to Sea Race, now in its 39th year, is the descendant of the original Mt. Baker Marathons that saw men brave ice, snow and derailed trains to race from Bellingham to the peak of Baker and back.

Warger teamed with Eric Chauvin of the Emmy-award-winning design house Blackpool Studios, which is based in Bow, and Brian Young of Seattle-based Jet City Films to work through the film’s post-production stages.

“We did an ultra crash course in editing,” Warger said, with a laugh.

Warger kept details of most of the special effects shots close to the vest, but did say Blackpool Studios recreated a Mt. Baker blizzard that would have been difficult to visualize otherwise. The editing process started at the end of October, and Warger’s team worked for weeks straight afterward; sometimes devoting hours to 30 seconds or so of film. The final film will run about 95 minutes.

While the film’s premiere date had been delayed, with the extra time new sources of information were uncovered. These included several previously unknown photographs and recorded interviews from the 1960s with a participant and the son of an organizer.

“After 100 years, listening to someone’s first-hand account is like a time capsule,” Warger said.

Warger had help from the family of local historian Galen Biery and the Center for Pacific Northwest Studies. It’s thanks to Biery that the center and Warger’s production team had access to much of their research material.

The film will provide viewers with a combination of historical and recreated scenes, a method that provides a more immediate experience for viewers. The film also includes interviews of modern-day extreme athletes to give viewers perspective on just how difficult the original Mt. Baker marathons must have been. Warger hopes these interviews will draw a younger audience to the film and give them an opportunity to connect with something they might not have known about before.

The interviews show modern athletes marveling at the predecessors in their sports. The original mountain runners had no real training or knowledge of proper nutrition for the exertion they were going to put themselves through, Warger explained.
“You need 50 or 100 years to realize what these people were going through,” he said.

Throughout the entire production process, Warger tried to stay as local as possible. The production and editing studios are just two local parts of a film that Warger said has been nearly 100 percent produced in Whatcom County, with all the necessary crews, supplies and locations coming from within the state.

“We didn’t have to go far to get the work done,” Warger said. “It’s a local historical event that was really national.”

As part of the local push, Warger reached out to the Pickford Film Center for help promoting and screening the film. Executive director Alice Clark said the film center acted as the nonprofit fiscal sponsor for the “The Mountain Runners,” which allowed donations to be written off as a tax deduction. They have also hosted preliminary screenings of the film to provide feedback during the editing process.

“It was the first project we have done this with, so it was a big deal for us,” Clark said. “We hope to do this more in the future for other local and regionally created film projects.”

“I think it is going to be a great film and that everyone who sees it will probably come out of it thinking, ‘Wow! I had no idea!’”
For more information on “The Mountain Runners,” visit  www.themountainrunners.com, or the Pickford Film Center, visit www.pickfordcinema.org.


The Races

Envisioned as a way to publicize the area for tourism, the Mount Baker Marathon began in 1911 as a three-part race from Bellingham to the summit of Mt. Baker. Participants left Bellingham at midnight by either automobile or train to the trailhead in Deming or Glacier, ran from near sea level to the summit of the mountain at 10,500 feet, and then returned by the same means. While most did not finish the race due to exhaustion or injury, the winner received a $100 prize.

The race was instantly popular, drawing thousands of spectators to the area (though only a dozen or so participants each year). However, due to weather, financial and safety concerns the race was cancelled after only three years.