180° SOUTH is the story of one of the most unique and prolific environmentalists of our time -Yvon Chouinard. Rather than re-living Yvon's story through old photos and his life's work with pie charts, 180° SOUTH weaves Chouinard's tale through a modern day expedition. This expedition was inspired by the rumor of a legendary trip in 1968 and the proof that came with it when the lost cans of film that documented the trip were recently discovered. The old footage captures Chouinard and best friend Doug Tompkins in 1968 as they explore untouched mountain ranges and un-surfed coastline on a 5000 mile expedition from California to deep Patagonia. For the two men, the original '68 adventure still stands as "the trip of our lives."
A young American adventurer named Jeff Johnson happened upon the footage in 1990 and spent the next ten years of his life dreaming of following their footsteps south. In 2007, Jeff dropped everything to finally fulfill his dream. He set out to follow Chouinard's classic route on what became a six month traverse of North and South America. His hope is simply to find unclimbed mountains and un-ridden waves in the spirit of his heroes. However, as he travels, his eyes open up to the see environmental disasters that threaten these places as well as the human triumphs that are working to save them.
From the start of the film, each scene seamlessly echoes back and forth between Jeff's modern day adventure and conversations happening in a century old stone cabin in deep Patagonia. The two men (Chouinard and Tompkins) cook the fish they have just caught on a wood-burning stove. Their hair is silver now and the lines on their faces speak volumes. They have been best friends and expedition partners for over fifty years. They recount their lives with simple and humble narratives (all of which have achieved folkloric stature in the outdoor world). The stories come to life with classic archival footage and hand drawn animation (by artist Geoff McFetridge). Each story flows in-and-out of Jeff's voyage becoming a parable to a thesis that has solidified them as true visionaries in the most important revolution of our time: the preservation of the natural world.
As the film progresses and Jeff picks up several more characters, each with their own unique views of the world, we realize that Jeff has been with the old men in the cabin the whole time. Asking the questions that have produced the stories and philosophies we see. We also come to find out that we are on the eve of what could be the last big climb of their lives together (as they are both almost 70 now). It is an unclimbed, unnamed peak that is part of a two-million acre preserve. A park that the two have created together