This is a guest post by Harold Linde, environmental activist and Hollywood green media pundit.
Decades before Patagonia was known as a brand-name clothing line, the word would have conjured images of vast untouched plains and unscaled peaks in the southern most regions of the Americas.
In the 1960s legendary rock-climber Yvon Chouinard set off for a visit. Driving a van from California, he took very little money, three fellow adventurers (including North Face founder and environmentalist Doug Tompkins) and a wind-up Bolex 16mm movie camera.
Chouinard’s footage gathered dust until it was discovered many decades later by a Patagonia employee who eventually showed it to surfer/rock-climber/vagabond Jeff Johnson and the seasoned surf film director Chris Malloy. The two were so inspired that they set off to follow in Chouinard’s footsteps.
These two epic journeys, interwoven in the recent DVD release of "180 degrees South: Conquers of the Useless", would change the lives of their participants forever.
For Chouinard and Tompkins, the wildness discovered in the vast undeveloped spaces down south led him to found the shining example of corporate responsibility — Patagonia Clothing Company and North Face.
For Johnston and Malloy, the trek to wild southern American frontiers opened their eyes to environmental injustices happening in the world and resulted in one wild ride.
Two months out, the mast of their modest sailboat snaps. They limp to Easter Island, the most remote island on the planet, where Johnston falls in love with a surfing local beauty. He soon learns how the ancient Eastern Islanders’ own peculiar version of consumption — displaying rank and power by carving and moving gigantic stone heads — destroyed their ecosystems and their civilization.
Johnston and Malloy eventually do make it to Patagonia, where they meet up with the real-life Chouinard, attempt an unclimbed peak together, only to discover the rocks beginning crumble in their hands near the top, a metaphor for the environmental degredation suffered in the region.
The travelers encounter the !Sin Represas! movement (“No Dams!) led by gauchos seeking to stop a series of destructive hydroelectric projects threatening their vivid lands and traditional way of life. To support the gauchos' efforts and the film, the ever-committed Shepard Fairey designed a poster and T-shirt, proceeds of which benefit the cause.
Unlike most other environmental films, "180 degrees South" does not attempt to drive its message into audience skulls with a jackhammer. Rather, the film channels the awe-inspired humility radiated by its participants as they traverse Patagonia’s sublime landscapes. The title, “Conquerors of the Useless,” refers to the guiding principle of the heroes whose desire to climb and explore is not for outward glory but from some unnamable, personal inner meaning.
Chouinard offers an appropritely zen-like koan when asked by Johnston what he would like to name the route up the never-before-climbed Cerro Geezer peak: