Max Lowe was 10 years old when his father, mountain star Alex Lowe, died in an avalanche on an expedition in Tibet in October 1999.
Conrad Anker, Alex’s best friend and climbing partner, went on to marry Alex’s widow and raise Max and his two brothers. Now a filmmaker, Max has used his camera as a therapeutic tool for himself and his family, trying to account for the trauma of their loss in interviews and by digging through Alex’s archives at their home in Bozeman.
The result is “torn” A radically revealing and intimate documentary will premiere Monday at Aspen Film’s Academy. A National Geographic production, the film has been touring across the United States since the Telluride Film Festival, and recently had its theatrical premiere in New York.
Alo Lowes and Anker were finally able to recover Alex’s remains from the avalanche site in Shishapangma in 2016. But the operation did not provide closure, Max Lowe recalled in a recent video interview. Instead, it had the opposite effect and pushed him to act through the trauma he had with his family in a movie.
“If there was anything, he opened the door for me,” Lowe said. “That’s what made Torn so understandable to me. If it hadn’t happened, I probably wouldn’t have gone so deep into any of these things in my life. It’s been a wild ride, working through it that way.”
Lowe looked to documentaries such as Sarah Polley’s “The Stories We Tell” and Bing Liu’s “Minding the Gap” as his movie stars, throwing off the idea of objectivity and putting viewers in perspective as he tells his story instead.
“I’ve been inspired by other filmmakers who have made this leap in vulnerabilities and positioned themselves in the stories they tell in this way,” Lowe said.
He found that the camera and the interview process created space for him, his mother, Anker and his siblings to speak in a way they had never seen before.
“It’s a magic movie,” Lowe laughed. “You have this greater purpose. … When you sit down to tell a story and put yourself in it, it gives you this opportunity to be vulnerable.”
Anker apparently wanted to use the filmmaking process to open up and try to address his fraught relationship with Max. The movie “Torn” shows him sitting down for his first interview with Max, closing his eyes and taking a long, deep breath. Then he opens his eyes and says “Let’s do this!”
“Honestly, I was more concerned about meeting him,” Lowe said. “I didn’t know if he would open up. Because that’s not really his personality. To have enough guts and love me enough to sit down and open up the way he did was really special.”
With widespread acclaim on the festival circuit, “Torn” is beginning to reach mainstream audiences. It expresses the mountain film subculture centered around Telluride Mountainfilm, the Banff Mountain Film Festival – where “Torn” won Best Motion – 5Point Film and the like, following in the door-opening footsteps of Academy Award-winning “Free Solo” Jimmy Chin’s . “
“I made this movie with the hope that it would reach a larger audience of people and people who don’t know anything about climbing but who know something about family and loss,” Lowe said. “I think anyone who has experienced any kind of loss can relate to our story in some way. It was very helpful to hear the comments.”
At a show in Manhattan the night before our interview, Lowe said he summoned several people to tell him their own stories of losing family members and friends. This was a sign for him that the film was achieving the mark he had hoped it would.
“It’s rooted in climbing, because that’s the world my family lives in,” Lowe said. “But for me, it’s a story about family and how we move through life and face these big painful things together and move through them.”
Now facing the public and the media and sharing the film with a global audience is still part of the healing process, which remains incomplete.
“I keep telling myself, I can’t question the process,” he said.
Lowe has created short films and worked on the commercial side of outdoor filmmaking, but “Torn” is his first feature film. You will likely create opportunities for him to do more. He’s not sure what his next project might be, but thinks he knows what it won’t be after experiencing a “rip.”
“It would be nice not to tell a story about my life,” he said.