Canyon Crest Academy students shed light on autism through new documentary

The cover for the documentary Ascent.

A group of high school students at Canyon Crest Academy has completed their first documentary film called Ascent, about an 18-year-old rock climber named Joshua Golden who has autism. The filming and directing team included Max Miesen, Reed Martin, Max Mereminsky, Riley Scott, Gabriel Yung and Noah Hecht, who all shared equal roles in the making of the film.

The idea for the 11-minute documentary came about when one of the directors, Reed Martin, met Joshua in middle school.

“I showed our team his Instagram account @joshuagoldenclimbs,” explains Martin, “and we were immediately drawn in. His feats of rock climbing were impressive and we felt that his story needed to be heard.”

The film follows Joshua’s life from early childhood when his parents found out he had autism at age 3, through to his life as a competitive climber where he is now age 18. The directorial team was determined to bust some myths about the abilities of people with autism.

Joshua’s interest in rock climbing began at a young age.

“Many will make unfair assumptions about people with autism, especially when it comes to physical activities and sports,” says Miesen, another of the film’s directors. “We hope that Joshua’s story will help dispel some of these beliefs as he is capable of competing with other adults. It is clear that autism doesn’t hold him back from accomplishing his goals.”

The team followed Joshua to, coincidentally, Joshua Tree to film him “outdoor bouldering,” which is a form of rock climbing that’s done without ropes, harnesses or anchors. The only equipment normally used in bouldering are shoes for climbing, chalk to prevent sweaty hands, and mats to protect the climber if he or she falls.

Miesen recalls the team’s -- and Joshua’s -- frustration that day. “He (Joshua) struggled to complete the climbs. Without any footage of him finishing a climb, we were worried the film would leave the wrong impression on the audience. However, Joshua persevered and got second place in the advanced category for indoor bouldering (later in the film). In the end, his initial struggle and eventual victory was the best thing that could have happened.”

According to Josh’s former coach, Randy Englekirk, “The fact that he was able to come into this climbing gym and work with our coaches and work with our team and move from being a brand-new novice climber to a V-10 plus climber today, it’s just insane to see that growth. I don’t think I’ve seen anybody in the five years that I’ve been here that has gone from zero to 60 like he has in the past few years.”

The film includes ongoing interviews with Joshua’s parents, and shows many scenes with his dad coaching him during workouts and climbs. The team felt it was important to convey the strong bond between Joshua and his parents and ended the film on a tender note. When asked “What does rock climbing mean to you?”, Josh replies, “It motivates me because Mama and Papa believe in me.”

Having just completed the film on April 1 during Autism Awareness Month, the student team plans on submitting the movie to various film festivals in the coming months. To view the film, go to

Joshua (far right) getting second place in the advanced category at the Wall Climbing Gym.