TCFF 2015 Opening Night Recap: A New High doc + Lenny Abrahamson’s ROOM (2015)


Oh what a night! As they do year after year, TCFF 15 opened with a bang… this time with an inspiring, and beautifully-shot documentary A New High! The theater was packed and it’s always nice to find snacks waiting on each of our seats at Showplace ICON Theater (thank you KIND Snacks & Chipotle!)

I was going to skip the after party Mixer but I didn’t as I got to hang out with my friend & fellow TCFF staff Kristen G. and meet Mike Johnson, the director at Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission featured in the documentary!

It’s always such a treat to meet the real people involved in the film you have just seen, but in the case of A New High, it’s especially a blessing given how much what Mike’s done inspired me. Nice to see a film that’s so uplifting despite the heavy subject matter, we need more film that celebrate light instead of darkness.

More pics from the night’s festivities, thanks to TCFF photographer Dallas Smith & Jake Hinkley!

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A NEW HIGH Documentary


I have been blessed that in my life I haven’t had any experience with the struggles the people in this film went through. Residents of a Seattle homeless shelter it’s homelessness, addiction, abuse, and at times, it wasn’t by their own choice as their family did horrible things to them. But really, one does not have to have been addicted to drugs or alcohol to relate with their stories. As the tagline of the film says… everyone defines their mountain. Some of us can be *addicted* to seemingly harmless things, but if that takes over our life and take our focus away of the important things in life, that is something we have to deal with as well.

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A New High focuses on a diverse group of men and women who underwent an unorthodox recovery program that uses mountain climbing as a means of rehabilitation. After one year of intense physical and mental conditioning, the team will attempt to summit one of the most dangerous mountains in the country, the 14,400 ft Mt. Rainier. The project was spearheaded by former Army Ranger Mike Johnson, a director at the Union Gospel Mission in downtown Seattle. Right away we saw how much Mike believed in each and every single member of the shelter and he constantly encouraged them to succeed.


The film asked the question, ‘will their personal mountains be too steep to overcome?’ Even though they had to train hard for this arduous mission, Mike emphasized that it does not replace the most important thing about overcoming their addiction. It’s not so much about reaching the summit of Mt. Rainier, but reaching the recovery goal they have set for themselves. I love the vast splendor of the mountain, beautifully-shot and skillfully-directed by Samuel Miron & Stephen Scott Scarpulla. It looks stunning visually, but it’s also an intimate and personal film that makes the audience care about them.

The journey to the summit amidst unpredictable weather is an arduous challenge for even the most experienced climbers. So it’s riveting to see how each recovering addict face their demons head on, mentally and physically. Not everyone reached the top but I think each has come farther than they imagine possible and that alone is so uplifting. If you are looking for adventure, drama, action, and encouragement in a film (and really, who doesn’t?) I highly recommend this one when it plays in your city. And see it in as big a screen as possible for those panoramic shots atop the mountain.

In the Q&A after the film, Scarpulla revealed that he & his co-director also had to train for mount climbing as well in order to make this film, and in a way they have to work much harder to be ahead of the other climbers to film them! Talk about dedication and their labor of love definitely paid off on screen.


What a stellar pick for the first gala screening of TCFF this year! I actually have seen it two weeks ago at a press screening and so I can’t be more thrilled to see this as part of 2015 lineup. It’s likely going to end up in my top 10 of the year… it’s the most well-acted piece, from a female lead no less, and one of the most emotional experience I’ve had all year. I knew going in that I’d be shedding tears as I cry a lot watching movies, but this film is emotionally heartbreaking in the best possible way.


This film isn’t so much about the suspense about a mother (only known as Ma) & her 5-year-old boy Jack escaping captivity. Even if you skipped the trailer (which I did), it’s clearly spelled out on IMDb what the premise is about. But knowing that fact doesn’t spoil the film in any way. There’s still plenty of suspense and heart-rending moments leading up to that… but more importantly, what happens after. It’s hard not to be affected by the plight of these two, as most people simply can’t imagine or even relate the trauma they’ve been through. The film certainly made you think about the little things in life we take for granted and make us appreciate them a lot more.


I read that Brie Larson isolated herself for a month and followed a strict diet in order to get a sense of what Ma and Jack were going through. This is the first time I saw her in a prominent role and I was blown away. There’s a moment where she just stares into the ceiling in silence, all her anguish and desperation in full display, it takes skills to be able to convey such deep emotion with no dialog.

Her dedication and immersion in the role clearly showed and she had a believable chemistry with Jacob Tremblay who played the boy. Tremblay was equally fantastic, definitely one of the most promising young actors I’ve seen in a while. Joan Allen and William H. Macy provide excellent supporting roles as Larson’s parents, especially Allen as she had far more screen time. I also have to mention Tom McCamus as Allen’s new spouse who has some wonderful scenes with Jacob.


This is the second film from Lenny Abrahamson I saw, the first one being Frank. He’s certainly no stranger to filming bizarre, unusual situations and dealing with character experiencing great emotional distress. I haven’t read the novel it’s based on by Emma Donoghue, so I can’t comment on how faithful it is to the novel, but I think the story translates well on screen thanks to Abrahamson’s intimate and astute direction.

ROOM is not the flashiest Fall release, but though it may appear understated, it sure packs an emotional punch. I’m glad I got to see it and I sure hope it will gain traction during award season and I for one would love to see Larson (and Abrahamson for directing) get a nomination. In a similar way as A New High, even though the film deals with a dark, even dreadful subject matter, it’s not at all depressing. In fact the opposite is true as it celebrates the triumph of love and the power of humanity.

So that’s my Day 1 recap folks! What’s coming up for Day 2?

Stay tuned for more TCFF 2015 daily journal in the next two weeks! Let me know your thoughts about either one of these films!

31 thoughts on “TCFF 2015 Opening Night Recap: A New High doc + Lenny Abrahamson’s ROOM (2015)

  1. Room is definitely getting a lot of awards buzz, and glad to hear you were impressed! Sounds like a well-acted drama that the viewer can become emotionally involved in.

  2. Larson is top notch in my book. She won me over a couple of years ago and her ceiling is sky high. I’m really anxious to see Room.

    Good stuff Ruth! Bring on Day 2!

    1. I feel like Larson’s been so under-appreciated/under-used until recently, so I’m glad she finally got her chance to shine. I have yet to check out Short Term 12 which I heard was great as well.

      Stay tuned for interview w/ a great documentary filmmaker later today. I have so much stuff I have to post multiple things in a day 😀

  3. It was fun meeting Ruth for dinner before the film screening. I think that both of these films were very strong, as well giving you a real sense of awe in the case of A New HIgh, and an eerie sense of dread in Room.

    Great work here Ruth,

    This film will give Larson’s career a real boost, and best wishes to MIke Johnson is his new role in Tacoma, WA.

    I live in Sarasota FL, often called the thunderstorm capital of Florida. I live at sea level. Just imagine how it must feel to be facing a severe rainstorm, and you are hunkered down in a tent at Camp Muir which is at an altitude above 10,000 feet on Mt. Rainier,

    1. Hello Mike! Bummer we didn’t get a chance to take a photo yesterday! What films are you seeing today? I’m only gonna see Can You Dig This at 3:05, hope we see each other again. I’ve emailed Emily about what we planned on last night, still waiting on her response!

      I got to meet Mike Johnson briefly last night too, what a lovely man, he’s so warm in person as well.

      1. I saw Band of Robbers (the one o’clock screening) , and I’ve got Autism at America at 5:00 PM. Tomorrow :

        Pocha at 1:00 PM, Counter Clockwise at 3:00 PM, then Lamb at 7:30. I know you are also seeing Pocha so if it is at the same screening we can meet before the film)

        Thanks for reaching out to Emily,,,

  4. Room is pretty faithful to the book, which is excellent.
    And yeah, it’s really not about the kidnapping, it really is about the release and the readjustment. It’s heart breaking stuff.
    Brie Larson was also great in Short Term 12, you should check that out.

    1. Ah great to hear Jay! It’s impressive how absorbing and engaging the film was, I was pleasantly surprised by it. But I have high expectations about the performances and the cast did not disappoint!

  5. Brittani

    I’m looking forward to Room. I read the book, and while it was good, I think it will translate into a better film then a novel.

    1. Hi Courtney, well I actually find myself liking it more than I thought. But hey, to each their own I suppose. Glad you agree the acting is fantastic.

  6. Oh, I’m so jealous you saw Room! It looks insanely moving. I’m rooting for Brie to win big awards, she is so talented and seems like a very nice person

    1. Hi Margaret! I hope ROOM opens soon in your country. Yes it’s quite an emotional ride for me. Brie astounds me here and she does seem like an awesome person based on what I see her in interviews.

  7. A New High looks promising, and I’m dying to see Room! Some are calling Brie Larson the frontrunner for the Oscar win, which would be awesome! 🙂

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