Resilience is a 16-minute short from Wondermore Films, which follows the story of the company’s co-founder Christine Raine on her healing journey from breast cancer - a journey which takes her up Mount Chirripó (3,821m), the highest mountain in her native Costa Rica. The film has found a global audience, becoming the first Costa Rican documentary to be shown in an IMAX theatre and winning a multitude of awards at film festivals.
Watch Resilience, then scroll on to read our interview with Christine Raine.
Christine Raine comes from a long line of adventurers.
“My ancestors on the European side were explorers,” she tells me. “My great grandmother married a doctor who wasn't in her social ‘category,’ as she was from a bourgeois family. Even though that meant getting cast away from a prestigious life back in Berlin, she chose a life of adventure with my great grandfather."
Christine’s great-grandparents Hedwig and Fritz travelled to areas of Asia and Africa “where no white person had gone before,” says Raine, and when the time came to start a family, they chose to raise their children in Ethiopia.
Travel is such an incredible stimulus and such an incredible way to gain perspective.
“Fast forward a few generations to me,” says Christine. “I spent four years in Africa with my parents and siblings as a young child, then came to Costa Rica, studied in New York, and then moved to India. In my 20’s I used all my savings to travel the world , but I've sometimes felt a certain judgement around it - like, 'why can't you stay in one place'? Having studied psychology, I also began to wonder, am I running away from something? Why can't I just put my roots down?
Clarity would come in the most trying of times. “Doing healing work around my family lineage after I got diagnosed with cancer, I realised that I come from this lineage of brave women that followed their own path and were very incisive - before that was accepted in society. Travel is such an incredible stimulus and such an incredible way to gain perspective - to grow to understand yourself, and to empathise with other cultures.”
As well as being the co-founder of Wondermore, Christine is the founder of ConversABLE, an organisation and movement dedicated to sharing the principles of Nonviolent Communication and spreading empathy to all sectors of society. Travelling since such a young age gave her the push and motivation to contribute to the world and bring people from different backgrounds together.
In the short film Resilience, this idea comes to light through a poetic, almost philosophical narration where Christine states that “travel has always been [her] main source of inspiration and resilience” and that cancer reminded her “to honour the explorer in [her] and stay true to that essence.”
Resilience shows highly intimate moments in Raine’s healing journey, and through summit climbs of Mount Chirripó at different stages, it makes for an empowering watch. Still, Christine is keen to make one thing clear: every person's journey with illness is completely different, and the tools available to them are different too.
“One thing I get asked sometimes is: ‘I've heard that cancer is all about keeping a positive attitude’ - and although there is some truth to that, cancer is so much more complex. Yes, you can look at it as a journey to seek meaning, but every person's journey is their own and the outcome will depend on the tools and support systems available to them. The last thing we want while going through illness is for people to shame us if we are not able to look at the bright side, because it is fucking hard. It really is. We do what we can do.”
Raine was not originally intended to be the focal point of the film, but after the intended protagonist dropped out, they refocused. It wasn’t easy for her to decide to tell her story, as she’s always felt shy on camera, but she saw an opportunity of sharing something important - something that other people could relate to.
“I was recovering from cancer at that point, and we got special permission from the National Park to film the five part series we were making and to climb the mountain,” she says. “It was closed because of the pandemic. It was hard, in the sense that I don’t like being in the spotlight. When I saw what the director had done… It was so vulnerable. So intimate. But it felt so truthful and real, too.
“I teach vulnerability and the power of being emotionally authentic. It seemed like life was telling me to practise what I preached.”
Raine admits that the response to the film has been beautiful.
These three pivotal moments in my healing journey all had to do with this mountain.
“The last time I went to Chirripó, while I was doing the registry the woman asked 'are you the person from the film? We just watched it! You’re so brave!’,” she laughs. “It has been the most incredible feedback - it’s empowering to know that it can cast the light on women going through breast cancer.”
Resilience is a film based around not just Raine and her journey, but around that mountain - Chirripó. Christine climbed the mountain just before her breast cancer diagnosis, and again after finishing chemotherapy.
“Chirripó has really become a ritual for me,” she says. “I’ve always been very adventurous, but until my 30s I hadn't climbed it. It's the country's highest mountain, a three day climb that takes training and commitment, but when I went for the first time, I just had the most amazing time with a group that I loved, and two weeks later, I was diagnosed with cancer. It symbolised a huge ‘before and after.”
During the filming process, Raine battled altitude sickness and a migraine on the mountain, and Andrés Bronnimann, the director, broke his ankle near the summit, and had to be carried down over the course of nine hours. “It was an incredible, physical effort,” she says. “I had finished chemo only four months prior. We couldn’t have gotten a harder trial.
“There was no one we could call for help, because the park was closed. We had to find a way to make it to the refuge, and we could see this storm coming and hear the rumble of the thunder. I was throwing up and the director was jumping on one foot - but it was this incredible moment of deep presence and collaboration."
It’s amazing how building a relationship with nature can change our relationship with ourselves.
Raine has since been to the summit of Chirripó a third time.
“It felt like I was crossing a threshold,” she says. “It was so joyous and so profound. I feel a real relationship to that place. These three pivotal moments in my healing journey all had to do with this mountain. One prior, one during and one after cancer. It’s amazing how building a relationship with nature can change our relationship with ourselves.”
Inspired? Check out Christine Raine's website or write her at [email protected] You can also read more about breast cancer support on Breast Cancer Now or Cancer Research.