Jessie Leong’s film Perfect Partners will officially premiere at this year's Kendal Mountain Festival. Ahead of then, we caught up with the filmmaker to find out about the origins of her latest film and what viewers can expect…
My concept for the climbing film, ‘Perfect Partners’ is a film looking at the importance of trust and feeling at ease with relationships found through climbing. It weaves together common themes on identity & finding familial relationships in adventurous and challenging environments.
Ultimately, it focuses on the developing friendship between Ula Stopka Farooqui and Kasia Piatek, two UK-based climbers originally from Poland, who have found a kindred energy with both climbing and each other, later in life.
For me, I feel that Perfect Partners is a call to action for other viewers who perhaps feel similar about wanting to meet other women who are excited to do similar things. This includes climbing on ice crags, placing ice screws, getting out and making the most of winter. The film also highlights what a successful relationship might look like.
The more I learned about the film’s athletes Kasia Piatek and Ula Stopka-Farooqui, the more I noticed their compatibility and connection. The film follows them from dry tooling in the Peak District, to expedition plotting in the Alpine Club Library in London, ice climbing in the brutally cold Rjukan in Norway, as well as Sikkim in the Himalayas, India.
Why do you feel passionate about sharing this story?
Perfect Partners mentions imposter syndrome and a particular quote that Kasia says in the film really stands out to me: ‘It’s a very Polish thing to want to do better, to work harder.’ I think this is a sentiment that anyone can relate to, who is not the ‘typical’ outdoor representation often portrayed in the industry.
As a person with British Chinese heritage, I fully understand the sense of not fitting into the outdoor stereotype. In the process of making Perfect Partners, I have also had my own doubts in myself. I often battle with feelings of not being good enough, or that you have to work ten times harder to prove you deserve to be there. Leaning into this, and acknowledging that imposter syndrome is something that is prevalent in alpine climbing, and in broader life experiences, is the essence of what makes these characters so relatable.
How did you approach filming Perfect Partners?
Initially, I wanted to make Perfect Partners over a short length of time, but as the project progressed, it turned into a much bigger story that culminated in Kasia and Ula’s successful expedition to the Himalayas to climb an unclimbed peak in October 2023.
The concept for the film was developed initially with three characters, but as time passed it felt that it was a story that had three distinct chapters - an opening scene featuring a dry tooling sequence, a location shoot in Norway featuring ice climbing and a location shoot at the Alpine Club library in London to frame up the expedition planning sequence.
The film ended up following the friendship and sisterly kinship between climbers Kasia Piatek and Ula Stopka Farooqui over the course of nine months. During this time they shared with me their insights on the importance of having supportive climbing partnerships, as well as passing on encouragement to others who may not see themselves as ‘expedition climbers’, so that they may plan their own future adventures to lesser-known places.
What Montane gear did you rely on in the Norwegian winter wilds?
I was heavily reliant on my Montane gear to give me protection from the extremely cold weather conditions we faced - the ice was particularly brittle and very hard to kick into. This meant setting up filming sequences at Krokan, Rjukan was very challenging - especially when hanging around on an ice-screw belay!
I had eight layers on at one point, with the Montane Alpine Phase Waterproof Jacket over the top of my Down Jacket and synthetic Fireball Jacket. I had the Phase Waterproof Trousers over the top of the softshell trousers, so I was warm enough, although trying to not shred the built in gaiters whilst wearing sharp ice-climbing-specific crampons was tricky! The waterproof stopped chunks of ice from melting and seeping in, so it’s an essential piece of equipment in the cold Norwegian days when you’re effectively standing in the shade all day.
For anyone eager to find their ultimate partner in the mountains, what advice do you have?
To find your perfect partner, go into it with what you’d look for in a relationship - communication, a bit of a spark, and willingness to get the diaries out to work out when you’re free. Having a dialogue and acknowledging strengths and weaknesses quite early on can help with understanding if you know that the other partner brings a certain strength to the fore.
Likewise, chatting through goals and ambitions eg climbing and travel objectives and how much you’re willing to commit to it is also very helpful! Finally, a good sense of humour is important - there will be many many moments where being able to hold your objectives loosely, but looking after one another and seeing the positives, is very important.
Watch Perfect Partners
Catch the film, Perfect Partners at Montane’s Below Zero event at Kendal Mountain Film Festival on Thursday 16th November at 20:00. Get your tickets here.