Interview With Renan Ozturk


Climber. Direc­tor. Painter. Pho­tog­ra­ph­er. Renan Ozturk is a man of many tal­ents. His new film Meru pre­miered at Sun­dance. The same week, his paint­ings opened at Salt Lake City’s Gallery MAR. It’s been a big year. He took a few min­utes to dis­cuss his art and trav­els with us before head­ing off on anoth­er adventure.

THE CLYMB: You’ve had some huge artis­tic suc­cess­es lately—Your film, “Meru” pre­miered at Sun­dance and got some great press includ­ing a hit in The LA Times, your paint­ings at Gallery MAR were excellent—what’s been the best part of all this for you personally?

Renan Ozturk: Just all these things com­ing togeth­er, a lot of dif­fer­ent art forms, things that weren’t nec­es­sar­i­ly planned. I start­ed as a painter, which even­tu­al­ly led to film­mak­ing so being able to share the film at Sun­dance and to have my paint­ings in a gallery on Main Street, that were cre­at­ed on the climb as well, and have that climb be some­thing that was in itself a form of artis­tic expres­sion, it feels like it’s all real­ly com­ing together.

I feel lucky that it’s worked out that way—working with incred­i­ble peo­ple like Con­rad and Jim­my, Jimmy’s wife on the film, and then obvi­ous­ly Jim­my and Con­rad on the climb.

THE CLYMB: Were these real­iza­tions of spe­cif­ic goals or the prod­uct of seized oppor­tu­ni­ties?
Renan Ozturk: I think it’s prob­a­bly seized oppor­tu­ni­ties but, also, there are lots of spe­cif­ic goals along the way. I think that Jim­my and I knew that with the film there was a lot of poten­tial just because of how crazy the series of events was that led to the final real­iza­tion of the climb. We had the goal of get­ting it into a major fes­ti­val and speak­ing to a wider audience.


THE CLYMB: Your time on Meru’s cen­tral peak cul­mi­nat­ed in a suc­cess­ful sum­mit for you, Con­rad Anker, and Jim­my Chin. For read­ers who don’t know what you’ve been up to the last few years, could you give a brief recap of the Meru saga?
Renan Ozturk: So the film, essen­tial­ly, is about a climb on Mount Meru which is con­sid­ered the cen­ter of the uni­verse in the Hin­du and Bud­dhist reli­gions and it’s at the head­wa­ters of the Ganges Riv­er in India. But it’s also this peak that’s extreme­ly beau­ti­ful that all these alpin­ists and climbers over time have tried—it’s become the most tried and failed upon peak in the Himalaya. I was invit­ed to go try it with Jim­my and Conrad.

We tried it twice and had some real­ly hard times and incred­i­ble fail­ures. When we were about to go back for the sec­ond time, I was in a hor­ri­ble acci­dent where I almost died and Jim­my was in an avalanche where he almost died all in a four-day peri­od. The film real­ly dives into each of our per­son­al sto­ries and Conrad’s life story—which is real­ly moving—with his fam­i­ly, so in the end, it becomes a sto­ry of friend­ship and loy­al­ty. It’s not exact­ly about the climb itself. 

THE CLYMB: Have the strug­gles of those expe­di­tions been more of a cre­ative hin­drance or inspi­ra­tion?
Renan Ozturk: Our lives are marked by try­ing to doc­u­ment what’s hap­pen­ing so I think when those things hap­pened, though at the time it was real­ly hard to think of them as cre­ative build­ing blocks for the film—(you know, I was uncon­scious for a lot of it as well so there were pret­ty obvi­ous obsta­cles that stood in the way of achiev­ing the final goal)—but at the same time, in the end, they com­prised some of the most com­pelling sto­ry ele­ments in the film.

When I look back on my life, I’ll be able to draw upon moments like that—the low­est points that we’ve strug­gled through—and be able to use that to fur­ther my cre­ativ­i­ty in the future.

THE CLYMB: That seems to be the way with life.
Renan Ozturk: Yeah, there’s no real sep­a­ra­tion for me—it’s all mold­ed into the same thing—nothing’s per­fect and every human on the plan­et has some sort of strug­gle they’re going through. That’s stuff they can use to craft their own nar­ra­tive or shift into their own cre­ativ­i­ty, whether it’s through film­mak­ing or what­ev­er they’re pas­sion­ate about.


THE CLYMB: With so much diver­si­ty in your cre­ative medi­ums, is one more sat­is­fy­ing than the oth­ers?
Renan Ozturk: No, I think they’ve all grown organ­i­cal­ly out of each oth­er. I went to school for biol­o­gy but I was real­ly inspired by climbing—the com­mu­ni­ty and the lifestyle of it. So, after school, I gave away all my belong­ings and hit the road with­out a car and just fell into the climb­ing com­mu­ni­ty. I slow­ly worked my way up doing art­work side-by-side with the climb­ing and that art­work pro­gressed into film­mak­ing because it could tell a broad­er sto­ry of some of these remote expe­di­tions and the char­ac­ters that I was sur­round­ed by. So they’re all still con­tained with­in each other.

The Meru film’s a good exam­ple of that. I would hope that I could do more art­work in the future when some of these film projects aren’t as all-con­sum­ing but, at the same time, I do still make some time for it and through­out the year I’ll do at least one per­son­al “soul trip,” as I like to call it, for climb­ing. On those trips I’m not just going to climb for myself but I’m try­ing to con­tin­ue the film­mak­ing as well so I guess they’re all still connected.


THE CLYMB: It seems like you’ve been mak­ing a push late­ly to get your paint­ings out to peo­ple who know you pri­mar­i­ly as an adven­tur­er and a film­mak­er. What’s the response been like from your estab­lished audi­ence?
Renan Ozturk: It’s been pret­ty good! I mean those are my roots and peo­ple who know me real­ly well know that I spent prob­a­bly a peri­od of four years trav­el­ing around where every­thing that I made I gave away. It’s always cool to see, when I post that kind of stuff on social media, some­one pop up and be like “Hey, I’ve got an orig­i­nal on my wall from when you stayed at my house out­side of Joshua Tree!” (or British Colum­bia or wher­ev­er it is), and then also see­ing the wider audi­ences respond so well.

Just as far as the num­bers go, some of the art­work that I’ve post­ed on my Insta­gram feed have been some of the most pop­u­lar posts. Not to say that every­thing should be judged by the num­bers, but that’s kind of sur­pris­ing when you’d expect a pret­ty sun­set shot of the moun­tains would real­ly be the ones that are the most liked. So the response has been sur­pris­ing­ly good.

Part of it’s that, when I do post the art­work, often times there’s a pret­ty spe­cif­ic sto­ry behind each piece that’s con­nect­ed to a climb like Meru or some oth­er moment in my life and I’ll take the time to tell those sto­ries. I think that’s prob­a­bly what makes the dif­fer­ence as far as it being well received or not, rather than it being a thing that’s out of left field.

THE CLYMB: You’ve always pushed the bound­aries phys­i­cal­ly and artis­ti­cal­ly. Where will you go this year and what do you hope to accom­plish?
Renan Ozturk: I’ve got some big climb­ing goals in Alas­ka. I’ve got a fea­ture doc­u­men­tary that I’ve been work­ing on with Fred­die Wilkin­son called Sanc­ti­ty of Space that incor­po­rates adven­ture and explo­ration, and the lega­cy of Brad Wash­burn who was one of the great climbers and moun­tain explor­ers, pho­tog­ra­phers, map makers—kind of an unsung hero in the field. I just hope to find the bal­ance between all those things—to keep telling unique sto­ries while bal­anc­ing the need to put food on the table and all of the oth­er things that we have to do.