Autana (Alastair Lee)
Interview Words : Phoebe Smith | 03 January

Alastair Lee on scaling new heights

Phoebe Smith catches up with Alastair Lee to find out how he got into adventure film-making, shooting Autana and why he has the best job in the world…

In the February issue of Wanderlust, we spoke to award-winning adventure filmmaker Alastair Lee about his film Autana, which recently won the coveted 'Best Mountain Adventure Award' at Kendal Mountain Festival.

Wanderlust editor Phoebe Smith caught up with him to find out how he got into adventure film-making, why shooting Autana was so hard and why he has the best job in the world…

So, how did you get into adventure film-making?

I left home and started travelling and climbing at 20 hoping for a life less ordinary. I suppose, in the end, I soon worked out I was a much better photographer than I was a climber! 20 years on and I could never have imagined it would have gone this well. Chase your dreams people... you never know what might happen!

In Autana you venture into the jungle in Venezuela to film British adventurer Leo Houlding and his team climb the fabled Tepui [table-top mountain] called Autana – said to be the stump of a giant tree cut down by battling Gods. It involved a hard trek through the jungle and gaining permission from a Shaman – involving a memorable ‘Yopo’ ceremony. Why put yourself through it?

We love to travel to these extraordinary places and see these incredible landscapes. We want to experience new and remote cultures, we love the journey, we love the challenge and we all thrive in adversity; almost like we're not fully stimulated until the chips are fully down. Success or failure, good or bad, I personally believe you are always better for an experience.

When Leo was researching and organising this trip he gave the whole team the options from basically a climbing holiday in the sunshine to the most hardcore jungle in the world with one of the most inaccessible mountains, involving a visit to the local Shaman. The reply was unanimous – every team member wanted the bad-ass adventure, for better or worse.

What was the hardest part of the trip?

The jungle was one of the most testing environments I've ever experienced. The threat of deadly snakes, spiders and lions was one thing, but in actual fact, the heat, humidity and the sheer quantity of insects and bugs would really test you on a psychological level that nothing could prepare you for! It was a brilliant experience – but I won't be rushing back.

And the best thing?

The caves were a real highlight of the trip, no doubt – half-way up the peak and only accessible to those who climb. It’s a very special place and we are very privileged to have spent some time living in them. It felt very spiritual when we were in there. If they were more easily accessible they would surely be one of the wonders of the world!

The other amazing thing about them (despite the fact that they are the highest elevated cave system in the world) was that it was such a stark contrast to life in the jungle. It was a great relief to get on the wall and live in the caves. It was a nice temperature, particularly at night, and we didn’t have to sleep in hammocks. There were no bugs and witnessing those incredible sunrises over the endless jungle was just really special.

You started out as a climber, so is that what drives you?

In a way the climbing is incidental, its the vehicle we use to motivate, fund and inspire these wild adventures. The core of all our motives from camera man to porter, fixer to professional climber are the same – to travel the world and have fun doing it!

AAlastair Leeutana is available from Posing Productions here.

Alastair is now in Antarctica shooting his next film – Ulvetanna – where he, Leo Houlding and the team will put up a new route on the so-called Wolf Tooth mountain.

You can follow the team’s progress on their blog.