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Short Film Showcase: The Life Cycle of Mountains

Captivating footage of Iceland’s towering peaks provides a powerful backdrop for this poetic short film uncovering the geological mystery behind a mountain’s formation stages. Filmmaker Temujin Doran highlights the collective impact of natural and human elements on one of Earth’s most majestic creations. I spoke with Temujin about his film and fascination with mountains.

What drew you to this project?

I have always loved mountains, and I like to spend as much of my spare time as I can climbing and traveling in them. There’s a wealth of great literature about mountains and how they’re formed, how they affect us and our environment. ­I wanted to draw on these things to create a different film from much of the ones I’d seen about mountains—mostly quick-paced, loud, adrenaline-fueled films. Conquering the landscape via quick ascents or descents. [I wanted] something slow, tempered, perhaps more what I thought a mountain would be like. That’s not to say that I don’t enjoy those films; they’re fantastically made, gripping, and often just as informative as straight ecological documentaries.

How did you find out about L. Dudley Stamp’s work?

I found a book of his called The Earth’s Crust in a secondhand bookshop in Keswick, Cumbria. It’s at the heart of the Lake District,­ England’s most mountainous region. I loved the way he wrote and how beautifully he described the slow changes of landscape.

Can you tell me more about the Weight of Mountains filmmaker residency program?

TWOM is an artist residency program specifically for filmmakers. It happens every two years, and when I did it, it was the inaugural program and was held in Iceland for three months over the winter period. It brought together ten filmmakers from around the world to work on any project of their choice but was more specifically focused on using film as a method of exploring the boundaries and struggles between humans and their environment. [During] our year, ­that environment was the northern mountainous region of Iceland. We stayed in a small fishing community with a very small population and very little daylight.

What were the most challenging aspects of filming in Iceland?

The wind and cold temperatures made the physical aspects of filming difficult. While I’m not sure I believe all the local accounts that Iceland has the most demanding weather in the world, it could get pretty brutal outdoors. Sometimes it was a challenge just to stand upright, let alone hold a camera steady. The winter daylight hours made time on the mountains limited too, which often meant traveling at night in time to get a shot once the sun had risen.

Do you have a favorite part of the mountain-formation process?

All the parts, really, ­because without any one of them, we wouldn’t see the variety in the world’s landscape that we can now. But the eight-year-old inside me would say that the collision of continental plates is by far the most exciting. You can’t help but imagine millions of years of the Earth’s history unfolding, but this time sped up incredibly fast, so that all the changes happen instantly and are visible as you look out over the landscape. It looks so freaking cool, at least in my mind.

What are you working on next?

I’ve just finished a documentary about a small base in Antarctica. It’s called Welcome to Union Glacier, and you can watch it here.

I’m also working on a film about solastalgia, a term coined by the philosopher Glenn Albrect in an attempt to define the sense of loss that people feel as they watch the landscape around them change.

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Watch more from the Short Film Showcase.

The Short Film Showcase spotlights exceptional short videos created by filmmakers from around the Web and selected by National Geographic editors. We look for work that affirms National Geographic’s mission of inspiring people to care about the planet. The filmmakers created the content presented, and the opinions expressed are their own, not those of the National Geographic Society.

Know of a great short film that should be part of our Showcase? Email SFS@ngs.org to submit a video for consideration.