GROUNDBREAKERS: Henna Taylor Debuts The Color of Mourning

Short film explores themes of grief and trauma in the climbing community.

By Melanie Dahling

As people are being called to stay inside and avoid contact, it can feel like the world just got a lot smaller. Active personalities are having to reinvent their day to day, re-evaluate their priorities and spend more time in stillness. 

It seems appropriate then, that filmmaker Henna Taylor has been spending her days working with The Climbing Grief Fund: A support system centered around grief and trauma within the climbing community.

“It’s a really interesting time to be a program that’s supporting the psychological health of climbers,” she says. “There’s a lot of space and time to reflect and also a lot of energy that’s not being expressed.”

Photo by Henna Taylor

Sliver moon in the Dolomites. Photo by Henna Taylor

Taylor is no stranger to the Ottawa Adventure Film Festival. She has contributed two offerings, Wadi Rum & Speak to me Softly, to the fest in years past.

Her most recent short film The Color of Mourning is a companion piece to The Climbing Grief Fund, a project initiated in 2018 by professional climber Madaleine Sorkin. As Sorkin’s life partner and climbing companion, Taylor has seen firsthand the need for unique psychological assistance for climbers.

The idea started to take shape in 2017, a year Taylor describes as “a really heavy year for deaths in our community, in [Sorkin’s] community.” 

“It started with a trip that we took into the Winds in Wyoming. We were part of a body recovery or rescue for a team of climbers,” she says.

“One of the climbers of this team fell downclimbing off of a peak out there,” says Taylor. After hiking his partner out, Sorkin and Taylor were left wondering about next steps. 

“What happens next, now that you’ve had this really traumatic experience of watching your climbing partner fall to their death, what is there now?” She says.

photo by Henna Taylor

Madaleine Sorkin (founder of the Climbing Grief Fund) climbing in Dolomites, 2017. Photo by Henna Taylor

Those questions remained present as more of their peers had fatal or life-altering accidents that year. Taylor says it all seemed to climax with Hayden Kennedy, who died by suicide after losing his partner Inge Perkins in a tragic accident.

“[Sorkin] was really impacted by that and had a really hard Winter, and found that she had to go outside of the climbing community to find support for that process of grief and loss,” says Taylor.

Because death and trauma are realities in the climbing world, it felt necessary to develop something for those who wanted to stay within their community to process those things.

Sorkin put together the CGF with American Alpine Club. Though it is an ongoing process, there are currently offerings on their website (https://americanalpineclub.org/grieffund) including a mental health directory, free weekly online check-ins, and grant program.

Taylor’s contribution is The Color of Mourning, which will make its debut in an online premiere on July 16th during two weeks of interactive fundraising initiatives. Though the original plan was to tour the festival circuit, the CGF team is ready to adjust to this period of isolation and get their message “out into the sunlight.”

Photo by Henna Taylor

Morgan MacInnis watching the clouds roll in directly under the summit of Longs Peak, Colorado. Photo by Henna Taylor

Interviews from the film are currently available on the site as part of a story archive. Taylor says the film is meant to show the power of sharing your story, while also de-stigmatizing conversations around fear, grief, and trauma.

“This deeper conversation about the meaning of climbing pre and post-accident is just so critical,” she says. “And I think it’s something we’re all doing anyway, it’s just not as public.”

Taylor says the project has been a great reminder of what deep thinkers climbers can be. The hope is for the film to have a place among the adrenaline-fueled offerings viewers are used to seeing in the world of adventure film.

As we collectively dive into stillness, fear and uncertainty amid this global health crisis, the work of Taylor, Sorkin and the AAC seems so timely.

In Taylor’s words, the project is “trying to make that depth more public and more normal and more ok. And make that strength just as important as finger strength.”