I’ve been a long-time fan of Patagonia, an outdoor clothing and gear brand, for over a decade. Their commitment to the environment and fair labor practices—even when falling short—is extremely commendable in this day and age. So it came as a surprise when I finally watched 180 Degrees South and found out Patagonia’s founder, Yvon Chouinard—along with North Face’s founder, Doug Tompkins—were not only friends since the 1960s, but set out on a journey to climb the Corcovado Volcano in Patagonia, Chile. The trip led to decades of conservation efforts in the area by both men still taking place today and inspiring the documentary.
Directed by Chris Malloy and released in 2010 to mostly positive reviews, 180 Degrees South follows the journey of adventurer Jeff Johnson as he retraces the steps of the two clothing and gear brand founders. Both Yvon Chouinard and Doug Tompkins are interviewed throughout the film and also join Jeff on part of his trek to climb the volcano. The documentary is equal parts a look at environmental concerns in Patagonia and a travel film tracing two generations of adventurers as they surf and climb their way through the stunning landscapes of southern Chile.
The film is enlightening for anyone who appreciates or wears the brands of Patagonia and North Face. I found myself caught up in the older footage and what these two founders accomplished as adventurers and continue to achieve as environmentalists—essentially buying millions of acres of land in Patagonia to give back to people for sustainable practices and environmental conservation. The environmental issues pertaining to Chile are also well documented and trace back to the days of Pinochet privatizing all water sources, which led to a prevalence of hydroelectric dams affecting the ecosystem and a way of life tracing back hundreds of years.
The current trek by Jeff and his friends, however, was less compelling and boiled down to minutes (and more minutes) of surfing and climbing shots with music and little else. A very brief trip into Santiago also failed to explore a growing urban population versus living sustainably in the wilderness—an idea very much tied to damming the rivers and other topics discussed throughout the rest of the documentary.
The pros of the movie still outweigh any shortcomings. I came away from the viewing appreciative of men like Yvon Chouinard and Doug Tompkins. A reminder of the friction between saving the environment and building an increasingly industrialized society was also sobering, especially as it pertains to an area of the world most people consider immune to much of human’s footprints. People with a passion for surfing or climbing greatly exceeding my own will also surely find the rest of the footage inspiring and quickly add Patagonia to a list of must-visits—assuming this stunning part of the world isn’t already on the radar.
180 Degrees South: Official Trailer
180 Degrees South is available for purchase on Amazon.com and via popular streaming services like Amazon Prime and Netflix.