Showing at the Possible Worlds Canadian Film Festival in Sydney in August, 40 Days at Base Camp is a fascinating look at the lengths climbers go to so that they can “summit” the mightiest mountain of them all. Review after the jump.
Filmed on location at the base camps on Mount Everest, 40 Days at Base Camp tells the story of three different groups of climbers, the people who assist them, the Sherpas that look after them and the mountain, and the story of the changing face of the mountain itself.
In the Colombian team we meet a man with a prosthetic limb who is climbing to prove to himself and his country that anything is possible. In the Indian team Arjuna, a young 16 year-old reasonably inexperienced climber is attempting to be the youngest Indian to summit Everest. Finally in the Canadian team we meet Meghan, a very experienced climber who has climbed Everest before but is attempting to summit a different peak this time; and Rob, a man with Chromes disease who needs to summit Everest to complete the ‘seven summits’ challenge. This diverse group of people is very representative of the some 800 people who attempt to climb Everest every climbing season – a mix of sponsored climbers, those on personal journeys, those who have the money to pay someone to help get them there, and those who have no greater passion than the mountains.
As well as the climbers we meet some of the people who make the climbers existence on the mountain possible. We meet Sherpas, doctors, radio controllers, and corporate group leaders. Such a broad range of people give us a fairly comprehensive view of life in the base camps. We’re also told the changing story of the mountain, particularly through the recounting of stories from those who return every climbing season to work on the mountains, and the native Nepalese who call the area home. While the mountain and climbing has become more commercial, all agree that the spiritual importance of the mountain and the sacredness of the climb have not lessened. While the actual climb may be easier for those who can afford it to be, the journey each climber goes on is a unique and extremely spiritual experience.
For me it was the visuals which made this documentary worth watching. The Himalayas are truly one of nature’s wonders, and spending a whole film on them was such a treat. From the crisp blue skies, to the powder snow, to the angry storm fronts which carried death in their destructive weather – the film gives us it all. We also get to see video blogs and hand-held camera footage filmed by the climbers themselves. This gave the film a real personal touch, and made it a character film (with the mountain itself one of the characters), rather than a straight-out nature or sports documentary.
Dianne Whelan has successfully created a documentary which not only shows us what it takes to summit Everest, but also immerses us in life at base camp and gives us a sense of the mental and physical toughness needed by each and every person who chooses to visit one of Earth’s most unforgiving places.
40 Days at Base Camp is screening on Saturday 18th August as part of the Possible Worlds Canadian Film Festival. For tickets and information, please visit here.