The long climb to success

Daga Dygas

Published on 10 January 2020

Daga Dygas, originally from Poland and now based in Sunderland, graduated BA Digital Film Production from the University of Sunderland last summer. The young graduate combined her two loves, rock climbing and documentary film making, when she climbed frozen waterfalls in Norway to create a documentary about a remarkable man.

“I got involved in climbing about 10 years ago. I had been taking photos for a long time, but at first I had never linked it to climbing,” says Daga, 22. “One day that idea just clicked and climbing photography seemed like the obvious thing for me to do.”

As well as photography, Daga soon widened her portfolio to documentary film making, including a short film about former GB Paraclimbing Team member and Sunderland trainee teacher Esme Harte.

The inspiration for Daga’s most recent film struck at a climbing wall when she met fellow climbers John and his wife. She got to know the couple and discovered that John had suffered a brain injury from complications following an accident while ice climbing in Canada.

“John had been unable to walk, and had to relearn writing, using utensils, all the things you would just take for granted.

“After a year or more I finally persuaded him to tell his story on camera.

“It was then that I discovered that exactly ten years after his accident John was going to Norway to ice climb again. I really wanted to follow him and film that journey.”

Apart from the technical and logistical issues of getting to Norway to tell John’s story, Daga, a student at the time, knew that it would be impossible for her to pay for flights, accommodation and the extra equipment she would need. She approached the University’s Development Office, and applied for a DOSH (Development Office Scholarships) award.

“The lack of a budget really worried me,” says Daga.  “I had some good interviews, but I knew I had to get the footage of ice climbing – it’s not something you can shoot in your back garden.”

The University’s Development Office awarded Daga her DOSH scholarship, and exactly ten years after John’s accident Daga headed to Norway with the couple to film them ice climbing.

“Technically and logistically it was a challenge. I thought I could just lower myself from the top of an icefall – but I soon discovered it wasn’t possible. In order to be safe, I had to go to the bottom of the frozen waterfall and climb to the top with all of my equipment, set up at the top, and then lower myself to where I wanted to film from. It was a great learning experience.

“I got a lot out of it, both as an adventure filmmaker and a documentary filmmaker. Preparation was difficult, it’s not as if there’s a lot of ice climbing in England, never mind Sunderland! And of course if someone is waiting for you to set up in the cold Norwegian winter, you want to be as efficient as possible. 

“I practiced setting up at home and a local climbing wall, but the big test was whether I could still do all of that half way up a frozen waterfall.”

Daga is still editing her documentary, and hoping to show the finished film around festivals later this year – many of which are specifically mountain film festivals.

“There are some mountain film festivals in the UK alone, and many more in Europe, and the wider world, and I’m sending the film to some of them; hopefully I’ll get to go to a few.

“My experience reached beyond the shoot in Norway, and really taught me a lot about being a professional. It has given me confidence and shooting experience, but not just that: learning how to apply for funding and how to manage a budget are skills that not many people think about when they start making films. These skills are really vital if you want to make something you love your career, and I intend to.”

Every year the University’s Development Office awards tens of thousands of pounds in scholarships. Development Officer Scholarships (DOSH) are exclusive to current students, both undergraduate and postgraduate studying at the University of Sunderland. Scholarships are free money that is non-means tested that you never have to pay back. If you’d like to find out more go to: sunderland.ac.uk/dosh