By Jeremy Schwartz
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 adventure race, the Mt. Baker Marathons of 1911-1913.
Fortunately, though, all the weather has done is delay the release of the movie a few months and not plunge 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 more than a year 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.
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.
While the film’s premiere date had been delayed from last fall, with the extra time new sources of information were uncovered. These included several previously unknown photographs and recorded interviews from the 1960s with one of the participants and the son of an organizer.
“After 100 years, listening to someone’s first-hand account is like a time capsule,”
The Mt. Baker Marathon began in 1911 as a three-part roundtrip from Bellingham to the summit of Mt. Baker. Participants ran from near sea level to the summit of Mt. Baker at 10,500 feet and back again. Most did not finish the race due to exhaustion or injury, but the winner received a $100 prize.
John Magnuson, father of Mount Baker Experience founder Al Magnuson, shared the 1913 victory with Finnish runner Paul Westerlund, who completed the race in 7 hours, 30 minutes.
The film will provide viewers with a combination of historical and recreated scenes, a tactic Warger used to allow those watching to more fully experience the event. It will also be interspersed with interviews of modern-day extreme athletes to give viewers perspective on just how difficult the original Mt. Baker marathons must have been. Warger hopes that the inclusion of these interviews will also draw a younger viewing audience and give them an opportunity to connect with something they might not have known about before.
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.
Looking for exposure, Warger reached out to the Pickford Film Center for help in 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 the film to be claimed as a tax deduction. They have also hosted preliminary screenings of the film to provide feedback during the editing process.