Buried among the Reelabilities: Boston Disabilities Film Festival screenings is the story of Steve Wampler, born with Cerebral Palsy, who commits to rappelling the face of the 3,000 foot granite monolith known as El Capitan in Yosemite National Park. It would make him the first person with a disability to accomplish such a feat.
The film serves as a fundraising tool on behalf of the Wampler Foundation, which provides wilderness experiences to physically disabled children nationwide. But it is also a moving, well-told story, a celebration of a truly remarkable exhibition of will power and physical endurance. Wampler was accompanied by two experienced guides — Tommy Thompson and David Lane — in his dizzying 6 day ascent, which required Wampler to pull up, inch-by-inch, a custom-made climbing chair (the equivalent of some 20,000 pull ups). The nimble camerawork by cinematographer Corey Rich jumps from the vast expanses of the cliff face and park landscapes to close-ups of Wampler as he pushes his body past cramps, hypothermia, and delirium from exhaustion. All the while the climb is being followed on Facebook and watched by crowds on the ground.
Wampler kept daily communication by walkie-talkie with his understandably nervous wife, who directed the film, and two beautiful, able-bodied children. The film cuts nicely between the suspense generated by the ascension and an examination of Wampler’s upbringing and family life. His outdoor heroics are amazing, but the film’s most helpful achievement may be to show the enlightened way in which Wampler was raised. The nurturing strengths of his family are inspirational. Childhood friend and climber Ben Mullin declares: “He almost had us convinced that it was funner (sic) to be in a wheelchair. Whenever he wasn’t in it, one of us was. Basically convincing us of how cool it was to be in a wheelchair.” Wampler’s life-changing experiences at a summer camp for kids with physical disabilities not only led him to save the camp from closing, but encouraged him to start a foundation dedicated to supporting similar programs designed to promote independence, responsibility and self-confidence among handicapped youth.
Wampler’s Ascent is not a perfect film, but it has a great deal to offer. Elizabeth Wampler puts the educational value of this story well: “Ignorance among people without disabilities is 100% understandable. I think we are dealing with an incredibly compassionate population of American people on the whole, but people without disabilities are scared to do it wrong.” This documentary does it right.
The screening will be followed by a panel discussion featuring Adam Combs, Waypoint Adventure; Bonnie Dennis, adaptive climber; Erik Kondo, adaptive athlete. There will be a post-screening climb for members of the Cardinal Cushing community — facilitated by Waypoint Adventure.