This Friday, January 23, climbers and filmmakers Jimmy Chin and Renan Ozturk’s multi-year long film project will be premiering at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. The film, “Meru,” documents Jimmy Chin, Conrad Anker, and Renan Ozturk’s first ascent of the Shark’s Fin – a difficult alpine route up the central peak of Meru (20,700 feet), in Garhwal Himalaya.
The team first attempted the climb in 2008, only to be turned around 100 meters from the summit, after enduring 19 days of violent storms while on the wall. With the odds stacked against them, but motivated to fulfill mentor Mugs Stump’s vision of climbing the peak, Anker led the team back in October of 2011 to claim the first ascent.
Despite harsh Himalayan conditions and the added difficulties of climbing with camera equipment, Chin and Ozturk filmed the ascent themselves, with stunning quality.
Chin says that getting the film into Sundance was always a goal of his, but “like the climb, it took a few attempts.” The team was ecstatic when they discovered that the film had finally been accepted, and all three will be present at the screenings.
The film festival, a program of the Sundance Institute, is one of the largest independent film festivals in the United States.
“Meru” is entered in the U.S. Documentary Competition section, and will show six times between January 23 and February 1.See below for the full schedule.
Rock and Ice caught up with Chin to learn more about the film and his motivation behind producing it.
R&I: What was your reaction to finding out that “Meru” got accepted into Sundance? What did Renan and Conrad think?
JC: Getting the film into Sundance was always my goal. When I finally got the official word that the film made it into Sundance, I was speechless. Before I got too excited though, I became suspicious that maybe it didn’t really get in or maybe I had misunderstood them, but after numerous reassurances that the film was an official selection of the festival, I finally let it sink in and was pretty excited. Both Renan and Conrad were ecstatic.
R&I: Do you think this is another sign that climbing is making its way into mainstream media?
JC: I hope so …
R&I: Can you comment on the implications this has for the film, or climbing films in general?
JC: Another major goal of mine was to make a climbing film that wasn’t about climbing. I wanted to create a film that would break out of the outdoor space, create a film that a mainstream audience would be able to connect with. Hopefully, the film’s narrative will look at some universal ideas through the world of high altitude alpine climbing. So, to make a film that would not only open people’s eyes to the climbing world, but also give them something deeper to think about.
R&I: What was your motivation behind filming the climb – with all the added difficulties of hauling camera equipment and filming in harsh conditions? How did it effect the climbing and speed?
JC: There were a lot of different motivations behind filming the climb. I wanted to give people a visceral experience of what it is like to be on a climb like Meru and show the beauty, difficulty and camaraderie. The film had to be authentic and unlike a lot of previous mainstream climbing documentaries like “The Summit” and “Touching the Void,” there are no recreations in the film. It’s all real and shot on the actual climb. As for effecting the climbing and speed, my rules were, shoot whenever you can, don’t hold up the climbing and don’t drop the camera.
R&I: Versions of the film have been shown over the past few years; has anything been changed for the Sundance version?
JC: Quite a bit has changed. None of the previous versions expressed the ideas I wanted the film to express. The narrative also wasn’t clear in the previous versions. I went back to the drawing board, deconstructed the entire film, rewrote, reshot interviews and recut the film from scratch. I really wanted to elevate the look of the film, the audio mix, score, graphics etc. to a serious feature film level so I had to go out and find real financing for the film. I was able to get some great investors on board and I think that shows in the final piece.
R&I: What was the most difficult aspect of producing “Meru?”
JC: For me, financing the film was one of the most difficult aspects. It’s a lot of pressure to produce a film and raise money for it when you’re not sure where the film is going, if it is ever going to sell or if you’re ever even going to be able to finish it. There are a lot of doubts. It’s your reputation that you’re putting on the line, both personally and financially, and there is a lot of money involved. You have to really believe in the film, believe in the power of the story and that’s not always easy to do.
Check out the trailer for the film:
Friday, January 23, 9:00 p.m.
Temple Theatre, Park City
Saturday, January 24, 6:30 p.m.
Redstone Cinema 1, Park City
Sunday, January 25, noon
Sundance Resort Screening Room, Sundance Resort
Tuesday, January 27, 6:00 p.m.
Broadway Centre Cinema 6, SLC
Thursday, January 29, 8:30 a.m.
Library Center Theatre, Park City
Saturday, January 31, noon
Yarrow Hotel Theatre, Park City