The film “Drawn” is a crowdfunded passion project, years in the making by climber, artist, and filmmaker Jeremy Collins. Using extraordinary hand-drawn animation, sketches, and watercolor, Collins pays tribute to a lost friend and composes an ode to seeking new adventure at an age where many would prefer to sit back. Jeremy’s quest took him climbing in the four cardinal directions of his home in Kansas City, Missouri: West to the granite bastions of Yosemite, East to unclimbed walls in China, South on a voyage to the steamy jungles of Venezuela, and North to the serrated skylines of the Vampire Spires in the Northwest Territories. In the film, he contemplates life, death, discovery, and the importance of family. Here, Jeremy talks about the film, his artistic influences, and his fascination with the idea of direction.
The Clymb: In Drawn, you climbed in Yosemite, China, Venezuela, and the Northwest Territories. Was there a reason you chose these four climbs in particular?
Jeremy Collins: Each one has a different story of how we ended up there. Yosemite was a booty call from Mikey Schaefer. We had met in Patagonia the season prior. For China, I called Tommy Caldwell, and he started laughing because he was already planning a trip to the exact location, so I joined in. For Venezuela, I was approached by José Miranda at a film festival and two years later we showed up in Caracas. For Canada, I proposed a route in Baffin Island to Pat Goodman, and he counter offered with a picture of The Phoenix. He won.
The Clymb: Some of your pieces appear surrealist and Native American-like, such as your animals and landscapes. Was there an artist who inspired the development of your style?
JC: Yeah I suppose you spend enough time out in the elements, and those types of influences tend to absorb into you. There is no singular artist I have looked to for stylistic guidance, but native work from all continents certainly inspires me and feeds into my work. I like what the Austrian mountain artist Heinrich Caesar Berann was doing back in the middle of the last century. I love Jack Unruhs lifework. I’ve been looking at his work since I was a kid and now we are Facebook friends. What a strange world. It keeps shrinking. I guess in general I am more inspired in what artists do with their work, not their particular style. In that case, Shepard Fairey or Chip Thomas has my respect for their impact on the current mindset via street or cultural art.
The Clymb: Since your last film ‘The Wolf and The Medallion”, did you experiment with new styles or mediums?
JC: I wouldn’t say I had new mediums, I just grew into them. I have a deeper confidence in what I am doing with my hand drawn work and how they fit into storytelling for film. One exciting experiment I did was all the liquid transitions in the film. We shot these all with a DSLR suspended over a glass pane that had a bed of water in it. I poured ink into the water and while it bled, we captured it. It was a striking and successful approach.
The Clymb: One of the themes of the film is the desire to keep searching for more in life, whether through travel or experiences. What spurred you to take on this project?
JC: I think the simplest answer is that as an artist I am always looking for the next big thing. And pair that with my ideas and desires as a climber, it was the perfect vision for expression. there’s a line in the book where I say, “I write down lots of ideas. Many are useless vile-troll-dung ideas. Some are not-worth-the-paper-they-are-written-on ideas. No matter how wretched and pointless, our ideas are the truest things about us. Whether we have an idea to move the couch from this side of the room to the other, change pants, change jobs, or change the world, ideas matter.”
The Clymb: As well as climbing, you took on several community projects as well, particularly in Venezuela. What did you give back to these communities?
JC: Before going to Venezuela, I asked the question — “what do the residents of Yunek need?” and with the help of locals, we found they need power to keep their CB radio going. I was lucky enough to have Goal Zero as a sponsor, so I came to them to devise a plan. They were very open to my ideas, and we delivered a system for the Pemon locals.
I also arrived with piles of art supplies for the children and we had a great time making art together. I ended up doing a project where I painted people’s faces on their doors which got a lot of laughs. I’m no anthropologist, but I think the best thing you can bring a remote indigenous family group is pride in culture. I received advice to bring soccer balls and candy, but I just didn’t see the long-lasting impact as an approach that brought a sense of purpose and awareness that who and what they are or what matters. Either way, every action we do in those places has an impact whether we want it to or not.
There’s this great shaman from the Amazon, Davi Kopenawa that warns of too much impact from outside visitors. In his book “The Falling Sky” he speaks of those “infected” by tourists:
“They wear shorts, want to listen to the radio, and think they can turn into white people. They struggle to babble the white people’s ghost talk while sometimes dreaming of leaving the forest. Yet they know nothing of what the white people truly are, their thought is not yet opened. Try as they might to imitate them, it will not lead to anything good. If they continue on this dark path, they will wind up drinking cachaça and become as ignorant as the white people can be.”
The Clymb: Along with the film, you’re also releasing a companion book. What does the book add to the film?
JC: Just like any book/film combo, the book is a fuller, deeper story. It gives an insight to all my drawings made on the journeys. I struggle to pinpoint which best reflects the whole story, but the truth is, they work in tandem. There are pieces in each that are not in the other. They work as a team.
The Clymb: A common theme in your work are maps and particularly the idea of direction, such as the cardinal directions in ‘Drawn’ and the name of your clothing brand-not-brand, ‘Meridian Line’. What made you want to explore these themes?
JC: I think there’s a constant when you are pushing into new territory for yourself as someone who travels- you have to engage with a map of some sort. I like the parallels in life you find with a map. The more you unfold it, the greater the possibilities.
The Clymb: Is there any sequence in ‘Drawn’ that’s a particular favorite of yours?
JC: My “moment” in the film is where I’m walking “alone”, barefoot in the mud in The Yukon. Its one of the few frames where I am all alone. It’s poignant for me and a real sense of purpose and solitude. Even though I couldn’t have done any of this alone, when it came down to writing it all down and bleeding it out, it was my own story.
The Clymb: Were there any memorable moments that didn’t make it into the final film?
JC: Well there was a LOT of rockfall, especially in Venezuela, but we chose not to over sensationalize it. There was one argument in all four trips and it didn’t get captured. That was a bummer not to have on tape. Then there was the missed grizzly and wolf footage. It all happens so fast. Then there was that pool hall on the border of Guyana… That one’s a secret.
The Clymb: One final question: Is “The Tank” still running?
JC: You’ll have to read the book to find out.