Scaling mountain, challenges in documentary

Updated: 2015-08-12 11:11

By Niu Yue in New York(China Daily USA)

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Scaling mountain, challenges in documentary

A still from the documentary Meru, which follows the attempts of three climbers to scale a Himalayan peak. Provided to China Daily

Director Jimmy Chin says that "following your passions is not always a beautiful thing".

"It can be fraught with internal conflict, doubt and intractable compromise. I often ask myself: Where do you draw the line between following your heart and your responsibility to others?" Chin asked.

Chin answers those questions in the documentary Meru, which he co-directed with his wife, Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi. Meru tells the story of three renowned climbers who navigate nature's harshest elements and their own inner demons to ascend Mount Meru in the Himalayas.

It will be screened on Friday at the Angelika Film Center in New York.

For climbers, Meru is the most complicated and dangerous peak. In the high-stakes game of big-wall climbing, the Shark's Fin on the central peak of Meru (20,700 feet) is the ultimate prize for mountaineers.

Sitting at the headwaters of the sacred Ganges River in northern India, the Shark's Fin has seen more failed attempts by elite climbing teams over the past 30 years than any other Himalayan peak.

The film tells the story from October 2008, as three friends - renowned alpine climbers Chin, Conrad Anker and Renan Ozturk - arrive in India.

Their planned seven-day excursion unexpectedly devolves into a 20-day march in subzero temperatures with depleted food rations due to a massive storm. Within 100 meters of the elusive summit, their journey - like all previous attempts - falls short.

Heartbroken and defeated, the trio return to their everyday lives, but Mount Meru still beckons. By September 2011, Anker convinces his team to reunite and tackle the Shark's Fin once more, under even more extraordinary circumstances.

"Meru is the story of that journey - one of friendship, sacrifice, hope and obsession," the documentary's website says.

Chin has spent much of his life in the mountains as both a climber and a professional photographer. He said he always wanted to make a film that gave an audience the visceral experience of going on a difficult alpine climb.

"I hoped to give people a glimpse of the stakes, the risks and sacrifices involved," he said.

"In these kinds of stories, people often get caught up in the accomplishment, but there's another side, of course," said Vasarhelyi, who met Chin during filming. "Being married to Jimmy, I'm interested in what the female characters in the story - the ones back home, often wringing their hands - had to say.

"How did they tolerate the risks these climbers, their closest family members, take as part of their professional careers? What drove their lives, and what kept them steady," Vasarhelyi asked.

The couple will participate in a Q&A at the Angelika on Friday.

"It's a thoughtful meditation on life, death and everything in between, which is likely part of the reason it snagged the Sundance Documentaries Audience Award," wrote Newsweek.

It was also a nominee for the Best Documentary at the 18th Shanghai International Film Festival in June.

"Meru [is] the most shocking, exciting film of this year's festival. My palms were sweating while watching it," commented Brucas from Shanghai on the Doban film website, a Chinese film-rating platform.

The score for Meru by the Shanghai audience is 9.4 out of 10 on Doban.

Hong Xiao in New York contributed to this story.