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The Summit: Sundance Review

The Summit

The Bottom Line

A gripping, cliffhanger document of a deadly trek up the most dangerous mountain on earth where 11 climbers lost their lives.

Venue

Sundance Film Festival (World Cinema Documentary Competition)

Director

Nick Ryan

Directed by Nick Ryan, the documentary follows a deadly trek up K2, where 11 people lost their lives in 2008.

PARK CITY -- Coming back down is the hard and deadly part in mountain climbing: Climbers are exhausted, and can become careless in the euphoria of their accomplishment. This document of the notorious quest to the top of K2 in 2008, considered more daunting than conquering Mt. Everest, is a heart-throbbing experience.  In that quest, 11 of 24 expert climbers lost their lives. A packed, Sunday night house in the Salt Lake City portion of this festival was spellbound, some viewers clutching their seats while experiencing this mesmeric film.  

Mixing archival footage with glorious footage of the mountains themselves, director Nick Ryan charts, essentially, an autopsy of the deadly and controversial trek. After the world learned of the carnage, and the Internet erupted with provocative and often premature conclusions, the “truth” of the trek was lost. International outcry heightened when it was learned that mountain climbers who had fallen had been abandoned to die. In short, this document is an attempt to set the record straight, and it’s also a moving testament to the courage, resourcefulness and skills of the diverse mix of adventurers who teamed in this quest.  

Screenwriter Mark Monroe intelligently blends an account of the immediacy of the climb with a back-story insight into the dynamics of such a death-defying mission. It’s a stirring mix, both educational and emotional: Throughout, Monroe never loses grip of the expedition’s forward/upward focus.

Philosophically, the film examines the harsh moral choice that the surviving climbers faced: Would they embark on what, seemingly, appeared as suicidal missions to rescue their fallen cohorts, or would they continue downwards, hoping against odds that they would survive. This remarkable film puts us in their shoes – literally between the world’s most ferocious rock and the icy hard place of imminent death. As such, The Summit dignifies the actions of the surviving climbers by putting their earth-bound detractors in their precipitous plight.

Similarly, the technical contributions merge in ferocious splendor: Howling winds, topped off by Nick Seymour’s edgy musical score, acclimatize our senses to the deep drops and harrowing heights of The Summit.

Production companies: Image Now Films, Fantastic Films, Passion Pictures, Pat Falvey Prods., Diamond Docs
Director: Nick Ryan
Screenwriter: Mark Monroe
Producer: Nick Ryan
Music: Nick Seymour
Editor: Ben Stark
No rating, 104 minutes