Nova Scotia·Video

'If you doubt yourself, you fall': How climbing forces this filmmaker to stay present

To find her happy place, Devon Pennick-Reilly goes climbing. She shares her joy with us in her short film I'm Thinking of a Place.

Devon Pennick-Reilly’s short film I’m Thinking of a Place is part of our Happy Place series

'When I’m climbing, I am that kid again and I love the positive impact it has on my well-being,' says Devon Pennick-Reilly. (Brendon Wilson for CBC)

In the middle of winter, in the middle of a pandemic, where do you go to find joy? Maybe it's a physical spot, or a memory. Our new Happy Place series explores both. 

For Devon Pennick-Reilly, climbing brings joy, and forces her to focus on the present moment. In the short film I'm Thinking of A Place, Pennick-Reilly shows us this climbing state of mind. 

Directed and edited by Devon Pennick-Reilly. Cinematography by Brendon Wilson. Audio recording by Jeff Reilly. 

I'm Thinking of a Place

CBC News Nova Scotia

3 months ago
Devon Pennick-Reilly's short film is part of the CBC Creator Network's Happy Place series. Director/editor: Devon Pennick-Reilly Cinematographer/colourist: Brendon Wilson Voice-over recordist: Jeff Reilly 3:48

When I was young, my favourite thing to do was to find a tree in the forest and climb as high as I could. I would sit nestled in the branches and just be there. Up there, life was simple — watch the squirrels, listen to the birds, look out at the sky.

I was not popular back then, maybe because I wore garbage bags to school to support "recycled fashion," or that my pastimes included building fairy homes, or lifting up rocks to uncover all the creatures underneath. And, of course, climbing trees.

Up there, all my problems seemed as small as those little rock creatures.

In 2016, when I was 21, I moved to Alberta to study film at the Banff Centre. At that time, in spite of the beauty surrounding me, I still felt lost. An anxiety disorder had taken over. It was sucking the life out of me, and I was full of doubts. I had lost that version of myself, the one who loved to climb trees. I envied her. That girl was carefree, curious and believed in herself. 

'It’s all about trust, trust between the rock and your body,' says Devon Pennick-Reilly. (Brendon Wilson for CBC)

But when I started going to the Banff Centre's climbing gym, I rediscovered something very basic and real — you can't be in your head or worrying when you climb. You see it with kids, as it just makes sense to them. A foot goes up, a hand goes up, and then you look up and push to get to the top. If you doubt yourself, you fall. It's all about trust, trust between the rock and your body. 

When I'm climbing, I am that kid again and I love the positive impact it has on my well-being. I work at a climbing gym now, and I introduce people to climbing everyday. I see what it can do for people's mental health, just as it did so much for mine.

More about Devon Pennick-Reilly

I love to bring frames to life. Since childhood, I have naturally gravitated to film as a medium. I love to weave images together to tell a story. I started making movies when I was 10 and have yet to stop. I think I would still make films, even if there were no one there to watch them. In 2015, I graduated from the NSCC screen arts program, and in 2019 I graduated from NSCAD University with a bachelor of fine arts, majoring in film.

I am fascinated with human nature and our ability to endure and learn from hardship. I enjoy exploring the subconscious mind as a vehicle for self-discovery. I often blend waking life with the dream world to add a sense of magical realism. I believe sound design should guide the audience through our character journey and experiment with sound and music as a form of storytelling. I choose to see the silver lining of any dark cloud and ultimately wish to spread a message of hope. 

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Devon Pennick-Reilly is a filmmaker in Halifax, Nova Scotia.