HAUNTED BY THE GHOSTS of his mountain rescue work, a climber and wildlife photographer develops a crippling fear of wilderness that completely shuts down his life. But as rumors circulate of wolverine sightings in Colorado, he becomes determined to overcome his anxiety—step by step, mountain by mountain—in hopes of documenting the wolverine and inspiring others to advocate for its comeback, too.
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Six months ago, James Beissel hit rock bottom. Simply walking to the corner store would trigger a panic attack. On his worst days, he’d sit for hours in his car in the hospital parking lot, unable to shake the feeling that he was on the cusp of sudden death. He dropped out of school and work.
Despite all of this, Jim’s heart remained in the mountains. As a child in rural Michigan, he was embedded in nature from the start. He spent his teenage years rock climbing, and as a young adult, found jobs guiding. When a knee injury forced him to slow down, he picked up a camera and and began chasing a career in outdoor photography. But as a former volunteer on the search and rescue team, Jim was haunted by traumatic situations he’d witnessed in the backcountry. Anxiety began casting a dark shadow on his forays into wilderness, and he grew fearful of straying too far from help, should he, too, need rescue. In the Spring of 2018, the panic attacks completely took over. But he found a lifeline in a project he began six years earlier: a quest to photograph Colorado's wildlife in a groundbreaking new way and create a coffee table book promoting conservation.
As therapy helped Jim heal, the book motivated him to start journeying back into the mountains, one small step at a time. Now, Jim needs to photograph just one more animal to complete his project: the wolverine. It is the most elusive of Colorado’s native mammals, and anyone who hopes to track it must be as fearless in the mountains as the wolverine itself. And so, with the fiercest of creatures as his guide, Jim attempts to push forward, beyond any lingering fears, facing his demons head-on, in a search for the wolverine, and also for himself.
THE SUBJECT: Jim is approaching the crux of his recovery. Although he no longer experiences daily panic attacks, he’s not yet able to hike more than a couple miles from a trailhead. In 2019, he will have multiple opportunities to face and overcome this fear, but it won’t be easy. To accompany Jim with a camera at this point in his journey opens the door to incredible cinema verité and authentic, real-time storytelling of his road to resilience.
THE WOLVERINE: Jim’s story calls attention to the plight of the wolverine—an “indicator species” that once existed in Colorado, and whose return, whether natural or via reintroduction, would signal a positive shift in wildlife habitat protection despite a booming human population. In fact, advocates are proposing to list the wolverine as a federally threatened species, with a ruling due at the end of this year. Now more than ever, we need to demystify the wolverine and harness the power of masterful storytelling and breathtaking cinematography to inspire more people to care about its protection.
EMERGENCY RESCUE VOLUNTEERS: What happens when the rescuer can’t rescue him/herself? Jim’s story of PTSD is not uncommon among emergency rescue volunteers, who can struggle processing the death and trauma they witness. With the potential to interview Jim’s old teammates and a leading psychotherapist for Colorado’s emergency rescue staff, we have an opportunity through this film to both honor and help heal the invisible wounds carried around by so many of our community’s greatest heroes.
Executive Producer: John Keller
Director: Amy Marquis
Story & Impact Producer: Katie Stjernholm
Director of Photography: Joey Schusler
Cinematography: John Mans
Editor: Aidan Haley
Line Producer: Philip Higgs
CURRENT STAGE OF THE FILM
* IN DEVELOPMENT AND PRODUCTION*
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