The HIGH (A Barry Walton Documentary)

“The Pass of Dead Bodies”HIGH1From the opening frenetic pace to the closing credits,

Barry Walton’s The High is a master work of film-making.

Barry makes you feel as if you are there.

How could anyone do what these runners have done?

HIGH3Not only have the modern day adventurers traversed two, 18,000 foot peaks in one run but they do so through a place known to the locals as “the pass of dead bodies.

The Indian military said it couldn’t be done. The indigenous population wondered at the attempt Westerners were making to run 140 miles at such heights in three days. Dozens who signed up for the traverse declined after more research. Only three hardy souls ran the race.

Only one finished.

And Barry Walton captures it all.

Viewers’ interests are maintained by quick cuts from dialogue to action to background to interviews. The night shots are haunting.

And I have to say, as a viewer, the whole documentary made me a bit squeamish.

I thought I was going to dieWhen one participant recounts his thoughts as “This is where I was going to die” we in the theatre seats are glad we are sitting in the theatre seats.

How can human beings endure such tremendous obstacles?

Barren landscapes.

Altitude sickness.

Death on the trail.

HIGH2And why? Why would anyone want to take these chances? According to all the participants, there is something about the human spirit . . . a desire to test human possibilities . . . to become, as one journalist recounts, “something akin to a 21st century explorer.”

But what captured my attention the most was the 30 minute “making of” DVD.

It turns out that Barry Walton is the real marathoner.

Yes, athletes must maintain their level of physical abilities. Yes, they must traverse a formidable, imposing, death-defying feat of physical exertion. But it was Barry who spent four years of his life dedicated to the task of capturing the physical feat that took 3 days.

The preparation, planning, shortfall, physical limitations, financial impediments, sleep deprivation, “climatization” was truly what Barry refers to in the film as an act of “faith.” He had been rethinking his values in life. In his own words Barry “was in a place of searching for the right way.”

But what we discover is that Barry is just some guy, as he says, “with a little camera.”

Barry WaltonSo let me repeat: Barry Walton is the marathoner.

Yes. I loved his work. Yes. The documentary was fabulous. Yes. I will never look at ultra-marathons the same way again.

But, honestly, as a creative person, I am blown away by Barry’s commitment to see the project through to the end. As he repeats in the “making of” DVD, “Greatness cannot be achieved without struggle.”

What was true for the one-of-a-kind-athletes is also true for the documentary’s creative genius: Barry Walton.

Barry was a student of mine in high school. Barry’s words also promote my latest book on movies. Yes, that is full disclosure. But neither of those episodes swayed my review. My words would have been the same if I had met Barry in film for the first time. Dr. Mark Eckel is president of The Comenius Institute, a non-profit serving the Indianapolis university community, connecting wisdom with life. Mark has brand new appreciation for those who traverse mountains, part of his recently received wisdom.

All photos are taken from “The HIGH: Making the Toughest Race on Earth.”


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