Life Through a Different Lens


Pablo's job is awesome.

Joel Pontalti

Recently, I had the honour of interviewing freelance cinematographer and filmmaker extraordinaire, Pablo Durana. This past December, Pablo joined an expedition to Antarctica with renown climbers Conrad Anker, Anna Pfaff, Cedar Wright, Savannah Cummins, Jimmy

Chin and Alex Honnold. As the illustrious group’s cinematographer, he documented the trip over a couple of weeks in the harsh environment of Antarctica. For Pablo, the challenge of filming in such conditions was not new, as Pablo had filmed in Greenland a year prior, a trip that acted as a training grounds for extreme conditions. He said, “It’s sometimes hard because I find myself so focused on what I’m that supposed to film, I would forget to bring certain things. Being aware of environment was hardest thing for me”.

While the team spent their time tackling various routes, Pablo documented the trip and the beauty Antarctica holds. Scrambling up climbs, capturing these climbers making history, Pablo had no time to rest. The team took on multiple ascents, separated into three two-person teams. The first team, a female super-team was comprised of Anna Pfaff and Savannah Cummins, the first all-female team to climb in Antarctica. The second team, probably the fastest, including Cedar Wright and Alex Honnold, used a new-school style of climbing called simul-climbing where both climb at the same time. This is faster than the standard way to climb but increases the risk. The third team, Jimmy Chin and Conrad Anker, climbed the largest peak in the range, the Northwest buttress of Ulvetanna. And the fourth team was the one-man show, Pablo Durana, who documented this whole undertaking by himself, in addition to the teams filming themselves here and there.

Pablo worked as hard (if not harder?) than the other team members. His own climbs consisted of the arduous task of getting into place to film for the documentary. And while he didn’t have the celebrity of the other members of the team—Pablo is profoundly humble–it is clear he had earned his stripes as an equal member of the expedition. As Pablo put it when asked if he would want to be the spotlight athlete, “No. I don’t think that’s for me…I think Alex and Cedar have a good way of talking, a good way of expressing themselves. I’m not really as into that.” Pablo was content with filming and being the man behind the lense, his passion, and that’s all he needed. Antarctica is only one of many, many amazing documentaries Pablo has worked on, this one just as amazing as any of the others such as north of known, Joyrider, Ascend Afghanistan, Life According to Sam, Oscar-winning Inocente and the list goes on.

So the real question is Who is this Pablo guy? From my interviews with him I learned about why he films, what inspires him, what he’s learned from his work and what he’s proud of. Pablo has worked on many different types of documentaries. The most notable documentaries he has worked on are Inocente (which won an Oscar for best documentary, short subject in 2013), Life According to Sam, Into Twin Galaxies (featuring Greenland) among others. Pablo has worked on all of these documentaries, some optimistic, some darker than others, and he has taken something away from each of them.

So what gets him out of bed each morning to film? The answer is not as simple as “Because it’s my job.” Pablo is extremely passionate about what he films. He is passionate about documenting subjects that inspire and have an impact. For example, Life According to Sam, a documentary about a boy with the extremely rare and  debilitating disease progeria, shows awe-inspiring resilience during a time of hardship. This film deeply impacted Pablo: “ I look at Sam, and he’s easily one of the most influential people I know in my life…. He knew he was going to die soon, but was genuinely happy. He never complained, and it basically helped put things in perspective for me.”  Sam himself said of life, “I don’t focus on what I can’t do, but rather on what I can do [and] being brave isn’t supposed to be easy, but it’s the key to moving forward.” Pablo’s hope is to spread uplifting messages and he was doing just that with his sensitive portrayal of Sam’s story.

With a job like Pablo’s there is always a steep learning curve and profound lessons along the way. Pablo, who has filmed all over the world in many dangerous situations, said that the most important thing he has learned is appreciation. “The biggest thing that comes out of all these experiences is just appreciation,” he said. “There are a lot of places I’ve been to and been filming that were dangerous, but after, I got to go home while the people we were filming were stuck in the same environment.” Pablo sees things most people never do, and he has the privilege of sharing them to inform others.

Pablo is most proud of that he has managed to stay passionate about what he does. As a freelancer cinematographer and filmmaker, he contracts out to various companies for work. This gives Pablo freedom to do what he views as most worthwhile. As he puts it, “I have the privilege of making a living pursuing my passion,” whether that be going on extreme expeditions to the Arctic or filming inspirational stories. Following his return to California from Antarctica, Pablo completed a first responders course, “ order to be more prepared for the harsh environments and circumstances I work in.”

This drive to make something impactful and to do it at the highest achievable level accompanied by passion is something Pablo exemplifies through all things he works on.  That is who I see Pablo Durana to be. More than a freelance cinematographer, Pablo Durana embodies The Passionate.