'The Push': Film Review | Santa Barbara 2018
Grant Korgan and Geoff Callan’s debut feature-length film won the best documentary award at the recent California film festival.
Anyone who spends much time in the outdoors, especially in remote locations, knows that the unexpected is only to be expected, whether it’s tricky weather, threatening wildlife, inevitable equipment failure or maybe several different calamities all at once.
For the experienced and well-prepared, these unanticipated developments are manageable, but for those with limited mobility, they can quickly become life-threatening, never mind the consequences of deliberately pursuing risky activities. In the course of his recovery from a dramatic wilderness accident however, outdoor adventurer Grant Korgan can’t resist embracing extreme challenges wherever he can find them, providing sports documentary The Push with an exhilarating sense of accomplishment.
Growing up in the Lake Tahoe region of California’s Sierra Nevada mountain range, Korgan developed an enthusiasm for the outdoors at a young age and soon gravitated toward adrenaline-pumping sports like downhill skiing, mountain biking and rock climbing. He further refined his skills while at university in Colorado, where he specialized in engineering and spent as much free time as possible adventuring in the Rocky Mountains. By the time he returns to California, Korgan starts enthusiastically splitting his time between extreme sports and cutting-edge research at a nanotechnology start-up company.
After marrying his girlfriend Shawna, a fitness trainer, his life seems like it’s totally on track, until a snowmobiling accident in early 2010 puts him in the hospital with a life-threatening spinal cord injury that paralyzes his legs and lower torso. Months of rehabilitation later, Korgan still struggles to recover his ability to walk, remaining dependent on a wheelchair and Shawna’s unfailing support. Korgan seems resigned to giving up his formerly active lifestyle when in 2011 he unexpectedly receives an offer to join an unprecedented Antarctic expedition led by two experienced guides. After completing an ambitious training program, Korgan is poised to become the first spinal cord-injured athlete to reach the South Pole overland.
Typically, expeditions cross the polar region on skis, dragging their gear behind them over the ice. For Korgan, the only alternative is to literally push himself with two ski poles on a high-tech, modified sled 80 miles to the pole. Because he has no feeling in his legs, Korgan’s highest priority is keeping his feet warm and avoiding frostbite, so he rigs a sensor to monitor their temperature inside his battery-heated socks, but still comes dangerously close to freezing his toes on more than one occasion.
Even for an entirely able-bodied team, the 10-day crossing to the pole is an incredible feat of endurance. For Korgan, it requires an almost superhuman effort, particularly since the group gets off to a slow start, endangering their ability to complete the trip. He only manages to progress with the support of his guides Tal Fletcher and Doug Stout, who assist with setting up camp, meal preparation and numerous other tasks he can’t manage on his own in the bitter cold that often drops as low as 40 degrees below zero.
Korgan attempts to overcome these complications not only with incredible physical effort, but also by sheer force of will. Determined to walk unassisted again, he sees the Antarctic opportunity as an essential step in his recovery, recognizing that if he can complete the trip across the polar wasteland he can probably do almost anything.
Indeed, Korgan’s story represents an inspiring testament to the power of persistence and self-reliance, even if the film's voiceover narration sometimes comes across like a promo for his new career as a motivational speaker. Whether or not most disabled people can aspire to a similar level of accomplishment, his message and achievements are powerful reminders that overcoming obstacles is as much a mental as a physical challenge.
Korgan, an experienced videographer, shot much of the high-octane wilderness footage (including the fateful snowmobile crash) from all kinds of extreme angles prior to his injury. Once on the ice, co-director Geoff Callan excels at capturing the brutal beauty of the polar environment and the complexities of the expedition’s determined push to the pole.
Production companies: HiBall Energy, It’s All Good Productions, Indie Entertainment, Callan Productions
Directors: Grant Korgan, Geoff Callan
Screenwriters: Grant Korgan, Brian Niles
Producers: Shawna Korgan, Tal Fletcher, Geoff Callan, Jeffrey Allard
Executive producers: Todd Berardi, Patrick Rivelli, David Schneider, Frank Slootman, Andy Wirth
Director of photography: Brian Niles
Editor: Brian Niles
Venue: Santa Barbara International Film Festival