Dean Potter, the famed rock climber and extreme sportsman who was one of two men killed in a BASE-jumping accident Saturday in Yosemite National Park, seemed to feel more comfortable clinging to a sheer mountain face or parachuting through the air than he did standing on solid ground.
If that sentiment boggles the minds of non-daredevils, a 2014 documentary featuring Potter offers insight into what drives some people to attempt such feats. The film also stands as a cinematic record of on-the-edge exploits.
Directed by Peter Mortimer and Nick Rosen, "Valley Uprising" chronicles three generations of climbers drawn to Yosemite's 3,000-foot-tall walls: from rivals Royal Robbins and Warren Harding in the late 1950s to the "stone masters" of the 1970s to the modern group including Potter.
Potter, a free-climber, BASE jumper, wingsuit flier and slack-line walker, said in a National Geographic interview about the film, "I practice the art of no rules. Climbing for me is about being free. It's just to move and be uninhibited and feel and tap into the connection with nature. I can trigger heightened awareness through putting myself in harm's way and focusing on my breath. That simple focus on the breath -- that meditation that I do -- brings out the higher senses. That's the majority of my art."
"Valley Uprising" also underscores how Potter and his fellow thrill-seekers occasionally clashed with authority figures, including park officials and even their own corporate sponsors.
In the wake of the documentary's release -- it played in the traveling Reel Rock film tour, aired on the Discovery Channel and is available on streaming video -- Clif Bar withdrew its sponsorship of Potter and four other climbers featured in the film, saying their risks made the company too uncomfortable to continue supporting them financially.
The deaths of Potter and Graham Hunt have already brought renewed scrutiny of extreme sports, a subject that will be explored in new films in the coming months. They include "Sunshine Superman," a documentary about Carl Boenish, the "father of BASE jumping"; "Meru," a documentary about three elite climbers trying to scale a 21,000-foot-tall peak in the Himalayas; and "Point Break," a remake of of the 1991 heist thriller updated with an extreme-sports angle.