Boul­der film­maker’s “The Val­ley of the Moon,” set in Jor­dan, fea­tured at Reel Rock in Den­ver

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By John Meyer The Den­ver Post

Boul­der’s Henna Tay­lor, whose “The Val­ley of the Moon” will be fea­tured at the Reel Rock trav­el­ing fes­ti­val of climb­ing movies next week at the Ori­en­tal The­ater, didn’t start out want­ing to be a film­maker.

Since she was a teenager, she has wanted to be­come a mid­wife, and in her 20s she spent three months in Cam­bo­dia study­ing mid­wives there. That be­gan her round­about route to doc­u­men­tary film­mak­ing.

“I brought a su­per old Mac Book with iMovie on it and a cam­corder and de­cided I would doc­u­ment my time there (vis­ually) in­stead of writ­ing about it be­cause I’m a lit­tle dyslexic,” said Tay­lor, 32. “I fell in love with the doc­u­men­tary part.”

Her doc­u­men­tary de­but, one of four films be­ing shown on the Reel Rock tour, is the story of two Is­raeli climbers de­vel­op­ing a new route on a moun­tain in Jor­dan’s Wadi Rum na­tional park, along with Boul­der climber Madaleine Sorkin, who is Tay­lor’s part­ner. The team was sup­ported by a lo­cal Be­douin guide, Mo­ham­mad Hus­sein, a Mus­lim who has had a long friend­ship with one of the Is­raeli climbers, Elad Omer. The oth-

er Is­raeli, Eli Nis­san, lives in Boul­der.

Tay­lor dropped out of Fairview High School in Boul­der af­ter her sopho­more year, got a GED and moved to Canada.

“I was get­ting straight As and I couldn’t re­mem­ber what I had learned,” Tay­lor said of her rea­sons for quit­ting high school halfway through. “It wasn’t try­ing to get away from school; it just at the time felt like a waste of my time. I ac­tu­ally dropped out for a love of learn­ing, I think. When you drop out of school and move to a dif­fer­ent coun­try, that’s like the most learn­ing you can do. You’re fully en­gaged and fully awake and fully ter­ri­fied. That was re­ally ex­cit­ing.”

She spent five years liv­ing on Van­cou­ver Is­land, work­ing as an Out­ward Bound in­struc­tor and a sea kayak guide be­fore mov­ing back to Boul­der. Last week, Tay­lor spoke with The Den­ver Post about “The Val­ley of the Moon.”

Q. So how did this movie come about?

A. The mar­riage be­tween rock climb­ing and film­mak­ing makes sense tech­ni­cally. I’ve been climb­ing since I was 9. I knew how to make films and I could han­dle my­self in ver­ti­cal spa­ces. Madaleine is a pro climber. She and Eli were talk­ing at our house one day and Eli said, “Please come to Wadi Rum.” I had to fig­ure out a rea­son for me to go — Madaleine was go­ing be­cause she is a pro climber and that’s her job, but I won­dered, “How can I get there as a film­maker?” I pitched the story and the trip to one of her spon­sors, Out­door Re­search. They jumped on board, we bought plane tick­ets that was that.

Q. Wadi Rum has been used in movies whose set­tings are sup­posed to look like Mars, most re­cently “The Mar­tian” with Matt Da­mon. Is it a lit­tle like Moab?

A. On steroids. It’s this red desert with dunes and huge red sand­stone cliffs.

Q. Your movie shows the climbers mak­ing a new route up a 1,800-foot rock wall, but it’s also about the re­la­tion­ship of two Is­raelis and a Mus­lim, be­ing friends and do­ing cool things to­gether in the Mid­dle East. How did their friend­ship come about?

A. Mo­ham­mad was about 16 when he met Elad, about 18 years ago. He was work­ing with tourists. Hope­fully it shows in the movie that they are like broth­ers, they love each other so much. Ev­ery time Elad goes to Wadi Rum, he stays with Mo­ham­mad.

In a lot of ways, Mo­ham­mad also gave them “per­mis­sion,” and that’s a big part of this I re­ally want to get across in the film. A lot of times you see ad­ven­ture films, the white peo­ple go­ing into the brown peo­ple’s space, build­ing stuff and call­ing it amaz­ing. You’re not re­ally sure how the lo­cals feel about that. In this case, the lo­cals love it, or the ma­jor­ity of them.

Their whole econ­omy is based on tourism, and tourism right now is de­clin­ing. They are in Jor­dan, which is the mid­dle of the Mid­dle East. It to­tally is an oa­sis, a peace buf­fer, and it is peace­ful. As a woman, I would feel com­pletely com­fort­able to walk out into the desert alone for hours. I feel more safe walk­ing in the Wadi Rum desert than I do on a log­ging road in Col­orado.

Q. What about the po­lit­i­cal over­tones?

A. Of­ten when I show this film about Jor­dan, peo­ple bring up the con­flict of Pales­tine and Is­raand el. I don’t re­ally know how to re­spond to that be­cause I’m show­ing a film about Jor­dan, not Pales­tine and Is­rael. There is no com­men­tary about the con­flict in this film. I don’t want to go there. That said, these are Is­raelis in an Arab land, and that is po­lit­i­cal even though this film is not po­lit­i­cal. Noth­ing about the re­la­tion­ship be­tween Eli, Elad and Mo­ham­mad is sen­sa­tional or politi­cized.

I am of­fer­ing the ob­ser­va­tion that if you put an Is­raeli and an Arab-look­ing per­son to­gether as friends and if we see that as po­lit­i­cal, that means we’re in a re­ally bad place po­lit­i­cally. See­ing a film in the Mid­dle East that is 100 per­cent pos­i­tive with this com­ing to­gether of Amer­i­cans and Is­raelis and Be­douin Mus­lims as OK — it’s not even amaz­ing, it’s just OK, like any other climb­ing trip would be. That was the point. The Mid­dle East is a big place. There is war in the Mid­dle East and there are re­ally scary peo­ple in the Mid­dle East (but) there is no war in some places and there are won­der­ful peo­ple in the Mid­dle East. I tried to com­mu­ni­cate how Eli, Elad, Mo­ham­mad and Madaleine feel about it with­out telling the au­di­ence how to feel about it.

Q. That’s in­ter­est­ing, be­cause it seems like most doc­u­men­taries to­day don’t take neu­tral ap­proaches. They are polemics from one side or the other.

A. You can’t make a film with­out bias, but there have been a few doc­u­men­taries I have seen that did come at it neu­trally and I felt so grate­ful. I agree, it doesn’t hap­pen of­ten. It does hap­pen some­times, though, doc­u­men­taries that are made from a place of curiosity rather than a place of try­ing to con­vince you of some­thing.

Pro­vided by Henna Tay­lor

At top: Madaleine Sorkin climbs the Crux, the fourth and most dif­fi­cult pitch of the Sul­tan ul Mu­jahidin, as Eli Nis­san be­lays be­low.

Alon Brook­stein, pro­vided by Henna Tay­lor

Above: Di­rec­tor Henna Tay­lor dur­ing the film­ing of Wadi Rum in Jor­dan. The film will be screened at this year’s Reel Rock film tour.

Pro­vided by Henna Tay­lor

Left: A view of the vil­lage of Wadi Rum from the top of Jebel Rum.

pro­vided by Henna Tay­lor Mo­ham­mad Hus­sein,

Di­rec­tor Henna Tay­lor dur­ing the film­ing of “The Val­ley of the Moon” in Jor­dan.

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