Dave O’Leske’s documentary about the late climbing legend Fred Becky to screen at the Edison Theatre
Local mountain junkies and the general public will be treated to the real thing on Saturday at the Edison Theater with “Dirtbag: The Legend of Fred Becky.” The film is about more than just climbing, it’s a about aging, the power of the human spirit and the rewards of perseverance.
The documentary focuses on a single man, but Becky is far from being just another climber. He has climbed more mountains and put up more first ascents than anyone else in North American history, yet lived in obscurity and received none of the notoriety that some of his contemporaries like Royal Robbins or Warren Harding earned. Dirtbag producer and director Dave O’Leske says Becky likely had more than 500 first ascents under his belt. The film follows Becky in the last years of his life from 82 to 93, to just before Becky’s death in October 2017.
O’Leske, a mountaineer himself, told The Sheet he followed Becky around for 12 years documenting his life, climbs, and lifestyle. The two even attempted the Fishhook Arete on Mount Russel when Becky was 86. At 93, Becky climbed at Squamish in Canada, negotiating a few 5.7 and 5.8 pitches (moderate ratings according to the Yosemite Scale, which rates roped climbs from 5.0 to 5.15). O’Leske said Becky was literally crawling to the base of the climbs. Months before he died, Becky tied in for a 5.6.
Becky refused to stop, refused to accept failure and would go back to a failed route year after year, like the Fishhook Arete, which he attempted four times.
Becky was driven to climb the mountains he obsessed over, and nothing else, except the occasional tall blonde. He was constantly climbing or planning his next trip, pushing relationships and responsibilities to the side. “He created his own culture. His culture of one,” says climber Barry Blanchard in the film.
He could have had corporate sponsorship but the rocks got in the way.
O’Leske says Becky was asked by a rope company to be their spokesperson and had set up an interview, but Becky never showed. When asked why he didn’t make the meeting, Becky reportedly confessed, “The weather was perfect so I went climbing.”
He lived on a constant road trip, sleeping in his bag or bumming a night on a couch here and there.
O’Leske said Becky has always been an inspiration to him as a man that forged new ground, always looking for that blank spot on the map. He first approached Becky about the film in 2005. Becky’s reaction was to ask, “Why would anyone want to watch that?”
Becky was humble. He never gave up, and had an uncanny ability to move past failure. Keeping his body and mind moving probably helped Becky to live and climb for so long, O’Leske said. This aspect of the movie and Becky’s absurdity and sense of humor are attractive to the non-climber, too, O’Leske said.
The film has won 17 awards including the 2017 Banff Film Festival Best Feature Mountain Film and People’s Choice Awards, the 2017 Nordic Adventure Film Festival Best Film of the Year, and Krakow’s 15th Annual Festiwal Gorski Best Mountaineering Film. O’Leske said the film finally won its first award in the states at the Spokane International Film Festival in the first week of February.
In the film, O’Leske asked Becky if he had done everything he wanted to do, to which Becky replied, “No, just scratched the surface.”
“Dirtbag: The Legend of Fred Becky” plays at the Edison Theater on Saturday, February 24 at 6 p.m. Tickets are available at brownpapertickets.com. Check out the trailer at dirtbagmovie.com or the extended trailer at climbing.com.
Becky died on October 30, 2017, just after the film premiered.