Dee Molenaar, an icon in the Pacific Northwest mountaineering community passed away recently at the age of 101. Filmmaker Eric Becker, a long time collaborator of DPReview was lucky enough to spend some time with Dee around his 100th birthday. What resulted was a short film produced by Eric in collaboration with DPReview about Dee’s life, his love of the mountain climbing community and his prolific work as a visual artist.
The film takes a look into Dee’s expansive archive of paintings, hand drawn maps, 8mm film footage and a treasure trove of archival slide photographs. You can watch the final piece above, and read on for a personal account, from Eric, of the background behind the film.
Eric Becker – director
In 2018 I was finishing up my feature documentary Return to Mount Kennedy, which centers around the first ascent in 1965 of a remote mountain in the Yukon – Mount Kennedy – then newly named after assassinated president John F. Kennedy. Climber Jim Whittaker lead the expedition, which included JFK’s brother, Bobby Kennedy.
Dee Molenaar was one of the photographers in the group. I originally connected with his family to track down some of his original images, but in talking to Dee’s son Peter I learned that there was a lot more to his life and work than just that one trip, back in 1965. Peter invited me to come and go through his father’s photos, and it occurred to me that this might make for an interesting short film on its own.
When I arrived at Peter’s house to take a look through his father’s archives, I was shocked. There were just so many boxes of slides, reels of footage, and beautiful paintings that Dee had created during his life. Peter mentioned that Dee’s 100th birthday was coming up in June and that the family was planning to take him to Mt. Rainier to visit his favorite place on earth. At this point, I knew there was a story.
There was a bittersweet element to the trip which gave it an emotional thrust – the unspoken sense that this would probably be Dee’s last opportunity to see the place
Good stories need some key ingredients. First off, there needs to be visual material to work with, which we had in volumes, in the form of Dee’s photographs and paintings. Second, you need strong characters. Peter was totally comfortable being filmed, and the love and admiration he had for his father came through when he spoke. The same was true of his sister Karen, and his brother David.
The third ingredient is action. In this case it was the simple act of taking a 100 year-old man to see his beloved mountain. There was a bittersweet element to the trip which gave it an emotional thrust – the unspoken sense that this would probably be Dee’s last opportunity to see the place.
During the making of this film we digitized about 40 reels of 8mm film footage and found some absolutely beautiful imagery of the Pacific Northwest in the 1940, 50’s and 60’s. I also read Dee’s autobiography and did as much research as I could to get some background on his life and work. We filmed interviews with the Molenaar family, and we joined Dee on the trip to Mount Rainier.
My favorite moment was when I showed Dee some of his films that we had digitized. He watched them on an iPad for about 45 minutes and was totally tuned in, even talking about some of the people and places.
This was a very archive-heavy project, and the bulk of the editing for this short film happened in early 2019 once we had collected all of the pieces. Editing is both my favorite and least favorite part of the process, but it’s where the magic happens. Whenever young filmmakers ask for advice, I tell them to learn the tools, including editing. The reality is that cameras and computers are so inexpensive and user-friendly these days that the way to distinguish yourself from the crowd is to focus on the craft of it all. And getting good at editing, as anxiety-ridden as the process can be, is one of the easiest ways to advance your craft as a storyteller.
Getting good at editing, as anxiety-ridden as the process can be, is one of the easiest ways to advance your craft as a storyteller
We made the film using the Fujifilm X-H1, some of it handheld shooting internal 4K but mostly paired with an Atomos Shogun, with Senheiser wireless lavs for sound. We have a simple rig that holds everything. Aside from the camera (which changes from shoot to shoot) this is the same basic setup we use for all of the DPReview long-form videos. Everything was shot in 24p, except for some 60p footage that we captured for slow motion. We used the Fujifilm Eterna profile, and I cut the piece in Adobe Premier Pro.
With this video and with all of the other pieces in the long-form series that we’ve shot with DPReview, I hope we’ve succeeded in inspiring people to get out and shoot. I’d like to think that Dee would approve.