climbers, the math surrounding K2 is daunting.
Twenty-five percent of those who reach the summit perish on the way
down. It is a factor of altitude plus
exhaustion. Nevertheless, the mortality
rate for the international expedition scaling the mountain in August of 2008
was unusually high. While the sudden
blizzard and subsequent avalanches obviously cost the climbing party dearly,
many of the details of what transpired up there remain murky. It is a mystery that survivors and loved ones
try to resolve in Nick Ryan’s The Summit (trailer here), which screens
during the 2013 Sundance Film Festival in Park City.
of the twenty-four who ascended K2 that fateful day, eleven never made it
back. That is forty-four percent—or sixty
one percent of the eighteen who reached the so-called “death zone.” Gerald (Ger) McConnel became the first
Irishman to summit K2. However, his ultimate
fate is the driving question of Ryan’s documentary.
tragic 2008 climb was not the first controversy surrounding K2. In fact, there was quite a bit of back-biting
and finger-pointing after the first successful summitting. Esteemed Italian mountaineer Walter Bonatti never
received proper credit for his contributions that allowed his countrymen to
stake their claim for glory. Viewers
learn this from journalist Concetto La Malfa, who intermittently tells the tale
in the persona of Bonatti. Actually,
that is not very clearly established in Summit,
which is problematic for a documentary, but good golly what a rich voice he’s
the flashing backwards and forwards, Summit
keeps the audience riveted throughout.
Incorporating home videos and footage shot during the climb, as well as
staging some surprisingly cinematic dramatic re-enactments, Ryan conveys the personalities
of most of the party members, often through their own words. This also increases the suspense as the
mountain takes the ill-fated eleven one by one, And Then There Were None-style.
Visually arresting (with ample credit due to
cinematographers Robbie Ryan and Stephen O’Reilly, as well as the climbers
themselves), The Summit is a perfect
doc for viewers who prefer narratives.
It is about as story-driven as films get. Ryan’s documentary vividly captures a sense
of the punishing Karakoram-Himalayan environment as well as the spirit of adventure
that draws people to it.
Enthusiastically recommended, The
Summit screens today in Salt Lake (1/20), Wednesday (1/23) and Friday
(1/25) in Park City, and Tuesday (1/22) in Sundance Resort as part of this year’s
Sundance Film Festival.
Labels: Documentary, K2, Sundance '13