K2: Siren of the Himalayas
December 26, 2013
Editor's Note: This is the second in a four part series of reviews for films in the Wild & Scenic Film Festival, Jan. 9-12, in Nevada City and Grass Valley.
Mount Everest, yeh, yeh. K2 may only be the second tallest peak in the world (778 feet shorter than 29,029-foot Everest), but compared with K2, Everest is a cakewalk. More than 5,000 people have summited Everest; only about 300 people have stood atop K2.
For perspective, given the natural draw of Everest being the tallest, fewer than 2 percent of climbers die on Everest expeditions. About a quarter of the climbers die in attempts on K2.
A "siren," from classic mythology, lures mariners to destruction with seductive singing. The film "K2: Siren of the Himalayas" does a great job capturing the mystique of this second highest of the 14 peaks with elevations over 8,000 meters (26,247 feet). That mystique is forged by steepness and weather, conspiring against even the highest levels of capability and commitment.
The cinematography knocks you on your heels, amidst stunning giants above sweeping glaciers. Footage from this 2009 expedition is juxtaposed with footage and commentary from an ascent attempted in 1909. At the time, The Duke of the Abruzzi registered the highest elevation climbed, though he failed to summit K2.
Along with remarkable logistics, you get a feel for climbers like Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner. She's a seemingly normal obsessive who came to be the first woman to summit all 14 of those 8000 meter peaks … well, actually the second, but the first woman to do it without supplemental oxygen or high altitude porters.
Extremes in climbing share a certain kind of calling, but this song of K2 has a pull all its own.
Distilled from conversation with the director of "K2: Siren of the Himalayas
Chuck Jaffee: If the statistic is even close that nearly 25 percent of climbers attempting to summit K2 die, isn't this beyond nuts, even for extreme adventure aficionados?
Dave Ohlson: That number is a little misleading. Fabrizio talks in the film about decisions to turn back, but people convince themselves they're in less danger than they think they are. Sometimes they cut corners because the stakes are so high.
CJ: How much of K2's allure is its commanding position amidst the incomparable aesthetics of the Karakoram mountain range?
DO: It's unlike anywhere I've ever been: these staggering mountains rising from massive glaciers; the wide, flat valleys. It's an intimidating, beautiful range. I felt ecstatic, terrified. I don't want to go back but I want to go back.
CJ: What's it like being the climber who's making a movie?
DO: It's difficult getting your filming work done. Nothing was set to fit my convenience. Everyone would walk by me and I'd see them at end of the day. A lot of shots I just didn't get.
CJ: What are some of the surprises of being the filmmaker chronicling a K2 climb?
DO: It's hard to steady the camera when your heart is pounding out of your chest. I should have brought a lighter camera. I didn't bring a tripod. They're heavy. It's surprising that the sun doesn't shine a lot — a problem for keeping solar equipment powered. A guy told me making the film would take like six years. It took about that long.
'On a River in Ireland'
Consider two extreme adventures: attempting to summit the highest mountains in the world and canoeing leisurely down a placid river. "Adventuring" — "extreme adventuring" in slow motion across four seasons on the River Shannon … some may snicker at such an association.
Slow motion is a wonder well used in the film "On a River in Ireland." Naturalist Collin Stafford Johnson invites us to a kind of stillness that ascends the fundamental sights and sounds of life. Director John Murray orchestrates who knows how much patience, time, and effort placing his cameras.
A bird, diving spear-like to the river bottom, wrangles a wriggling fish. A red squirrel leaps — almost flies — from tree to tree. A bat, in the life of night, scoops insects from the river surface.
Speeds vary in a dance of crafted cinematography and natural rhythms. A fish pounces on the right moment to fertilize eggs. A frog clings to a female, beating scrambling competitors to a mating ride. Birds by the thousands paint the sky with densely coordinated movement.
Johnson paddles quietly through dawns and reeds. Resonantly, he distinguishes bird calls and behaviors. He describes egrets coexisting with herons, egrets new to Ireland. In one of a few references to climate and habitat change, he reports movements north and west from what they were.
Whether you see it as an adventure or an expert window to nature, see "On a River in Ireland."
Chuck Jaffee of Nevada City likes to plug people into the spirit of independent filmmakers. Find his other articles for The Union at http://startlets.com.