Thursday, 2 May 2013

Sundance London 2013: The Summit Review

Director: Nick Ryan

Writer: Mark Monroe

Synopsis: During a climb to the summit of K2 in August 2008 11 out of the 24 climbers tragically died. The Summit looks at the expedition of 2008 and also compares it with the 1954 attempt made by Walter Bonatti and others.

It’s a struggle to criticise the editing of The Summit after it was awarded the Documentary Prize for Editing at Sundance (US). Nevertheless, even with this accolade it should not rule out a judgmental analysis of its structure. The Summit is incredibly engaging, with reconstructions of the event so realistic you wonder how they were accomplished. But, even with its edge-of-your-seat story-telling, there still remains the jarring arrangement of the tale(s).

Following most of the 24 climbers’ stories is a tricky task to pull off yet director Nick Ryan manages it well. It makes for a much more absorbing film to watch – having recollection upon recollection to grab your attention. Despite all this, though, the chronology of the film is a mess. We begin by reading about the deaths of the 11, onward to the interviews and reconstructions. In between scenes is a chronicle of Walter Bonatti’s successful expedition in the ‘50s. Bonatti’s scenes are placed so oddly within the narrative that his account is often confusing (with names and dates being lost in the viewer’s mind once it’s cut away from). The film then recaps information already processed (such as Ger McDonnell’s story told twice over) and rewinds itself to show another perspective that barely differs from the main outline.

Past the dodgy formation of scenes is a thought-provoking film questioning so many elements of humanity. At the heart of this exploration is the topic of ethics. Up on the mountain you have to look out for yourself lest you expire; so many of the stories show the struggle and aftermath of these decisions. Partners, lovers and friends in amongst the climbing crew see or suffer loss – each interviewee trying to articulate these consequences of climbing. Pemba Gyalje Sherpa, one of the survivors, adds the most to the documentary – one who’s enduring experience on K2 has given him an elucidate attitude on the perils of it all.

Certainly a documentary to provide shock and drama (and similar to the terrific Touching the Void) but poorly constructed. Certain shots – emphasising the beauty and reason of climbing – warrant its cinematic enterprise though it’s nothing you need to rush out to catch at the cinema.

By Piers McCarthy. Also posted on LiveForFilms

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