‘We were like magnets’:The friends who bridged a 20-year age gap to fall in love

Filmmaker Jennifer Peedom,46,and her husband,stills photographer Mark Rogers,67,were friends who fell in love. They juggle two children – Tashi,13,and Luca,11 – with careers that take them,literally,to places high and low.

Mark Rogers and Jennifer Peedom:“On Everest,I descended 2000 metres in one hit … All that mattered was seeing him. When I found him,I cried for about an hour.”

Mark Rogers and Jennifer Peedom:“On Everest,I descended 2000 metres in one hit … All that mattered was seeing him. When I found him,I cried for about an hour.”Stephen Oliver

JENNIFER: I would’ve been about 25 and working at Inside Film magazine when we met in 2000. I was at a film festival at[Sydney’s] Paddington Town Hall,speaking in the foyer to the producers of a film called La Spagnola – I speak Spanish because I’ve lived in Panama and Argentina. Mark,who also speaks Spanish after spending five years in Barcelona,overheard me,came over and we started chatting.

We saw each other at industry events over the next few months and then Mark invited me to the theatre. When we realised there was a 20-year age gap between us,I was stunned because I thought he was about 10 years younger than he was;he thought I was four or five years older! We decided that the age gap was too big and we should just be friends.

By 2005,I’d started filmmaking. I was being offered more climbing camera-operating jobs,which was intimidating to some of the guys I dated,but Mark found it fantastic. We were spending more time together. When the chemistry kicked in,it took me by surprise. We attended an event at the Australian Centre for Photography and,at dinner afterwards,I realised I wanted something more – and we kissed for the first time. We got engaged two months later. I realised,“Here’s somebody who truly sees me for who I am and is never going to be threatened by it.” In other relationships,I’d felt I had to be less of who I was. With Mark,the more there was,the more fantastic he thought I was.

We were newlyweds[in 2006] when I became the high-altitude director for the Discovery Channel series,Everest:Beyond The Limit;Mark joined the expedition as stills photographer.

“It’s tough doing this work with a family,but we’re both better parents when we’re creatively fulfilled. We tag-team like crazy.”

My job was to wait at Camp IV[8400 metres] and interview the team as they descended from the summit. It was a really tough trip because it coincided withthe death of the[British] mountaineer David Sharp[in controversial circumstances]. One of our team tried to help him down,but his legs were frozen solid. It was incredibly distressing for all of us being so close to someone who was dying and knowing there was nothing we could do to help him. You can hear me crying behind the camera.

I’d gone way too long without oxygen,hadn’t slept in two days,and all I could think about on the way down was seeing Mark,who was at Advance Base Camp. I descended 2000 metres in one hit when I really should’ve stopped and slept at Camp I. All that mattered was seeing him. When I found him,I cried for about an hour.

It’s tough doing this work with a family,but we’re both better parents when we’re creatively fulfilled. We tag-team like crazy:when I went to shootSherpa in Nepal in 2014,he’d just come home from two months shooting stills on the set of[Russell Crowe’s]The Water Diviner. I literally saw him for two days in four months. He was also shooting in Queensland for three months last year. There’s always an adjustment period[when someone comes home],and there have been some bumpy landings,but we know to be gentle with each other.

The couple at Mount Everest Base Camp.

The couple at Mount Everest Base Camp.Supplied

MARK: I met Jen at the Women In Film Festival. Afterwards,there were drinks and I walked past a group speaking Spanish,including Jen. It’s unusual to meet a fellow Aussie with fluent Spanish. Both of us had left home in our teens to explore the world,so there was a bond. She was also vibrant,fun and engaging – and ravishingly good-looking.

I asked her out to the theatre – it was a play I’d done some publicity photos for – and somehow,the 20-year age difference came up. I can’t remember who said,“Oh well,I guess we’ll just be friends.” A couple of times over the years I made it clear I’d be prepared for more,but she wasn’t – and that was fine.

Our closeness was building before that night at the Australian Centre for Photography,but I certainly wasn’t expecting it to happen.[When we kissed] the floodgates opened:we were like magnets that couldn’t stay apart any longer.

“One of my roles in the relationship is to be there,so she can collapse in my arms afterwards. That is just part of loving her,and it’s beautiful.”

Jennifer&Mark’s Spanish Wedding.

Jennifer& Mark’s Spanish Wedding.Supplied

We travelled together on jobs before we had children,which was very bonding. We went to Arnhem Land,Mykonos,Everest. It was great to have her introduce me to that part of the world,to have that shared understanding.

She’s had some traumatic experiences in the films she’s made[when she was makingSherpa,an avalanche killed 16 guides] but she pushes on. It’s her fearlessness that makes her an extraordinary filmmaker. One of my roles in the relationship is to be there,so she can collapse in my arms afterwards. That is just part of loving her,and it’s beautiful.

I can support her emotionally because I know the territory and I know filmmaking. In 2007,she went to Milford Sound[on New Zealand’s South Island] to film Andrew McAuley’s arrival[the Australian was attempting to kayak solo from Tasmania’s Maria Island] with his wife,Vicki,and their three-year-old son,Finlay. When it became clear that he wasn’t going to make it[the adventurer perished en route],she chose to leave her camera under a bunk while they went down to wait for news. I understand what that means for a filmmaker.

We’re so fortunate to have jobs we’re passionately engaged in and we appreciate each other’s successes. We’ve also been lucky in terms of projects not clashing very often. We’ve had au pairs since Tashi was one,which is how we’ve managed:there was always someone here.

Jen is so competent and capable. I find it harder to make decisions,but she drives a truck through any uncertainty. She has incredible resilience. She can be in tough places,and not just when she’s working. Say someone’s partner dies;next time we see them,she doesn’t shy away from difficult conversations. She doesn’t leave things unspoken.

Jennifer Peedom’s filmRiver,a collaboration with the Australian Chamber Orchestra,is out now.

twoofus@goodweekend.com.au

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Ute Junker is a columnist.

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