By Erin Free

Though now an established feature filmmaker with titles like The Last King Of Scotland, The Eagle, State Of Play, How I Live Now, and Black Sea to his credit, Scottish born Kevin Macdonald kicked off his impressive career as a master documentary maker with a knack for choosing interesting and varied subjects: the Munich Olympics hostage crisis in One Day In September; the day-to-day life of Rolling Stone, Mick Jagger, in Being Mick; and the method to fellow documentarian Errol Morris’s madness in A Brief History Of Errol Morris.

Macdonald’s most essential and intriguing doco, however, remains Touching The Void, which was years in the making, and has achieved minor classic status. Cannily employing chilling re-enactments and talking head interviews, this adaptation of mountain-climber, Joe Simpson’s book about his ordeal in the Peruvian Andes in 1985 hits with the blinding power and ice-cold ferocity of a snowstorm. While climbing with his friend, Simon Yates, Simpson fell, shattering his leg and dangling over a crevasse on the end of a rope. Yates, thinking his friend probably dead and in any case unable to help him, took the wrenching decision to cut the rope. Simpson, however, survived the fall, and then endured an agonising four-day crawl back to safety. “The book consists almost entirely of internal monologue,” Macdonald explained to The Guardian about the difficulties in bringing Touching The Void to the screen. “How do you make an accessible film out of that?”

Macdonald’s solution was to essentially throw out the book and utilise the mountaineers’ personal accounts. He employed controversial reconstruction to fill the gaps, and turned Touching The Void into a fascinating treatise on what constitutes a documentary. “That was the challenge – to make TV’s hoariest conventions work onscreen,” the director told The Guardian. “The answer was to keep the documentary element straightforward, and the dramatic elements as real as possible.” Macdonald journeyed back to the scene of the accident with Simpson and Yates to reconstruct their moral and physical nightmare with as much finely honed realism as he could. Old wounds, however, were quickly prised open. “The atmosphere became poisonous,” Macdonald has recounted. “Towards the end, neither Simpson nor Yates was talking to me. They were caught up with their private demons, which I was responsible for unleashing.” Utterly compelling and thought provoking, the ingeniously constructed Touching The Void eventually became a hotly contested talking point of a film, garnering glowing reviews, and prompting fevered debate, while contributing enormously to the growing profile of the always fascinating Kevin Macdonald.


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