Opening Night at the Twin Cities Film Festival 2015: Part One – A New High


Ruth arrived a few minutes after 4:00 PM, and quickly she acquired her tickets. Since all the seats are reserved, I would have to swap my ticket in so we could then select two seats together. Not a problem said the ticket maestro.

So we headed upstairs for dinner in the Lobby Lounge, The Royal Burger Sliders came two per serving along with a nice supply of chips. How does this sound to you: Two Mini Black Angus burgers with American Cheese, Tomato, Lettuce, House made Pickles and 1000 Island dressing. Not only does that sound good, they were wonderful. Bon Apetite!

I was seeing two films tonight, and Ruth – just one – the opening feature – a documentary called A New High.

There was a slight delay in starting as Jatin Setia, Executive Director of the Festival was attending a social gathering for some of the festival sponsors. So Instead of starting at 5:30, by the time the greetings, festival trailers, and Jatin’s opening remarks had concluded it was nearly six PM.


A New High was the title of the film, and it literally was all of that. Meaning this film was about the efforts of the Director  of Special Projects as a part of the Addiction Recovery Program at the Union Gospel Mission in downtown Seattle , WA. His name is Mike Johnson, and his program started with people in both dire and desperate circumstances – homeless, penniless, and addicted.

He got them to buy into it – and this was the deal, the training would take a year. It would ask these men and women to take a hard look at themselves, and decide if they wanted to go up and experience the highest of highs, and that’s meant to be taken literally.

They began with in town lectures and others things to help them decide. Then came the physical work. They climbed the stairs in the mission, again and again. They worked out in gyms, they were taken out for day hikes. And what was the goal – to reach the summit of Mt. Rainer. This mountain reached to 14,411 feet above sea level, and is considered one of the most dangerous mountains in the world.

As Johnson told them,  We are going up to a place where no one can live. He also told them – It’s up the mountain or down into the grave.

This was a film that was both harrowing and heartbreaking, joyful and jarring, and for the folks who went through this program we heard: It was the hardest thing I’ve  ever done in my life. And with a successful climb they’d experience the elation and ecstasy at the highest of elevations.

Two weeks before the climb to the summit of Mt. Rainier, they were asked to do a make or break climb – that is to the peak of Mt. Hood in Oregon. If you washed out on this climb, you would not be permitted to tackle Ranier. Most of the trek up Mt. Hood had to be done at night – and that  was to minimize the danger of avalanches.

For Dawn, as she said, this was the hardest thing she’d had ever done. Dawn didn’t finish Mt. Hood. At the point of being just three hundred feet or roughly the lengthy of a football field, Dawn announced that she could not go even one step further. She had given the mountain all of what she had and it wasn’t enough.

A lot of this film plays for you like an adventure in mountain climbing, and there’s another part that we both see and hear about – that is the issue of addiction and of relapse.


Now I live in Sarasota, FL, and the folks in attendance tonight live in and around Minneapolis. We were told that Minnesota hasn’t any mountains. Where I live, never mind that there’s no mountains, there’s not even any hills to speak of. So while I will never personally do anything as grueling as attempting to summit Mt. Ranier with a fifty pound backpack strapped on – I enjoyed this film immensely,

As is my custom, I don’t assign a numerical rating for documentaries. But I do whole heartedly suggest that you see this film when you can. Mike Johnson and the film’s co-director Stephen Scott Scapulla were both in attendance tonight and they took questions after the film ended.

Check out the trailer:


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