Ambition and sacrifice displayed in Sundance doc ‘Meru’
January 23, 2015
The world of big-wall climbing gained some national attention recently, when Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson finished a two-and-a-half-week free climb of the Dawn Wall rock face on Yosemite’s El Capitan peak. The climbers were the first to accomplish the feat.
This year, at Sundance, filmmakers Jimmy Chin and E. Chai Vasarhelyi, good friends of Caldwell and Jorgeson, present "Meru," a U.S. documentary featuring Chin and three companions climbing the never-before-climbed Shark’s Fin on Mount Meru in the Himalayas.
Chin said he hopes his friends’ historic climb draws more attention to the sport of big-wall climbing.
"Tommy and Kevin are good friends of mine, so I’ve definitely been following it," he said. "We’re all friends in the climbing community or fraternity, whatever you want to call it. It’s a tight-knit group. The success of our friends and the attention they’ve garnered, our film aside, makes us very happy. It’s great for climbing."
Those who followed the journey up El Capitan will have a better appreciation for what Mount Meru was like, Chin added.
"Climbing can really capture people’s imaginations and this definitely elevates people’s understanding of big-wall climbing
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"Meru" follows the climb of Conrad Anker, Renan Ozturk, Jon Krakauer and Chin, documenting the personal sacrifices made and the ambition and passion necessary to complete such an arduous journey.
Chin hopes his film accurately portrays the life of a big-wall climber.
"The thing is it was really, for me, a tribute to my mentor, Conrad," he said. "It’s really a look at what the stakes really are in that kind of climbing and what sacrifices are made in that kind of life and the drive and ambition that’s involved, as well as the loss that happens in that world."
Vasarhelyi, who doesn’t climb, said she wanted to make sure the climbers’ personal stories were portrayed alongside the physical aspects of the journey.
"I was most concerned with keeping the film grounded," she said. "It’s very easy to almost be overwhelmed by the scale of the mountains and the extremes of their actions, whereas it’s actually the culmination of thousands of personal decisions — even with the life and death stakes, there’s a very human story and we were focused and concerned with making sure the film could express that personal story."
"Certainly, I want viewers to come away with a very visceral experience of the climbing," Chin added. "Emotionally, though, I think it would be great for people to get a deeper understanding of what this life is like and to understand the stakes. [I want them] to get a sense of why people would even choose this life and appreciate the art of climbing and what it is to be in the mountains that way."
It’s probably not a stretch to say that "Meru" was also one of the most difficult Sundance entries to film. Starting in 2008 and continuing in 2011, Chin detailed some of the hardships he experienced during the filmmaking process.
"A lot of climbing feature docs in the past have all been recreations," he said. "We’re very proud that 95 percent of this footage is verite, real, and was shot on the climb. That’s probably what sets it apart from some of the other climbing films.
"We shot most of the climb with a Canon 5D and then we had a little Sony Handycam. You can’t charge anything up there and you also can’t download anything. You have to carry all the media and shoot very selectively. The other thing about expeditions like this is you can’t hold up the climb, either. The climbing has to come first. And, obviously, you can’t drop the camera, either."
After its debut on Friday night, "Meru" will screen five more times during Sundance, each with the full film crew in attendance, Vasarhelyi said. She added that she and Chin were thrilled to have their documentary accepted into the festival.
"It was a wonderful moment," she said. "For an American documentary, it’s really the highest honor. It’s the first step toward the best you can hope for. We were very, very happy and honored."
For more on "Meru," visit http://www.merufilm.com .
Saturday, Jan. 24 — Redstone Cinema 1 — 6:30 p.m.
Sunday, Jan. 25 — Sundance Mountain Resort — 12 p.m.
Tuesday, Jan. 27 — Broadway Centre Cinema 6 — 6 p.m.
Thursday, Jan. 29 — Library Center Theatre — 8:30 a.m.
Saturday, Jan. 31 — Yarrow Hotel Theatre — 12 p.m.
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