The 2014 Everest climbing season is upon us and teams have already begun their treks to base camp. Each season has its own surprises and headlines, with last year’s “Everest fight” stirring a media blitz. The 2014 season will see some changes, with new regulations in place to attempt to reduce crowding on summit days and require climbers to remove trash from the mountain. This year will also include a live TV wingsuit flight and Hollywood movie in production.
Climber, filmmaker, and artist Renan Ozturk, one of our Adventurers of the Year, is part of new project the aims to share a new and important perspective—the Sherpas’ perspective. The documentary will follow a 2014 expedition entirely from the Sherpas’ point of view. Here Ozturk tells us more about the film.
Adventure: What is the premise of this film?
Renan Ozturk: Many films have been made about Everest and the people who have climbed it. The premise of this film is to take a new persepctive on the traditional narrative, and see Everest from the perspective of the Sherpas, gaining an insight into just how much their modern role is either ignored or misunderstood. Through their eyes, we experience the politics and pressure of climbing the mountain they call Chomalungma.
A: You have spent so much time in Nepal. Are you going to be shooting some old friends?
RO: I hope I get a chance to shoot with old friends in Kathmandu as well in the Khumbu (Everest region), but I think we are going to be pretty focused on getting to base camp and focusing efforts on the stories of a few key Sherpa characters that will be climbing the mountain this year. One is Phurba Tashi, a veteran climber who has climbed more 8,000-meter peaks than any other person on the planet, including 21 ascents of Mount Everest, five on Cho Oyu, two on Manaslu, and one each on Shishapangma and Lhotse. The other is Yangjee Doma, a young female Sherpa who will be attempting it for the first time. They are both guiding on Russel Brice’s commercial Himalayan Experience team this season.
A: How will you show the genuine Sherpa perspective and not the Western perspective of the Sherpa perspective?
RO: All aspects of the filming will be from the Sherpas point of view. We’ve worked hard to get their complete buy-in to this project, so the Sherpa Himalayan Experience team is fully letting us into their world. They very much see themselves as collaborators on this project. This includes using fixed cameras in tents and GoPros mounted while they climb. We’ve also given two of our Sherpa team video cameras and have been training them in how to use them over in the Khumbu. We see this as an important part of getting their authentic point of view. These guys will also film the all-important rope fixing for us, as no Westerners are allowed on the mountain while this is going on. We also have a Sherpa translator as part of our team, giving us closer access to the Sherpa stories.
A: Will you all be documenting the commercial climbing experience this year? There are sure to be surprises.
RO: Yes, since climbing the mountain from the south side is primarily a commercial industry that is integral to the story. Also, there are also a number of film projects including a Hollywood feature film, a live TV wingsuit base jump event, and others that will add to the interesting dynamic that the Sherpas will be interacting with this year. I’ve never wanted to be part of it all because of the crowds and chaos, but it is part of the greater story. I’m looking forward to embracing the surprises.
A: What do you think of the new regulations that have been set for the mountain?
RO: I think most of the new regulations on the mountain are all for the best. These include a raised peak fee in the high season and a lowered fee in the off season which hopefully will spread out the traffic.
Also it is now mandatory for each climber to take down eight kilograms of trash from higher on the mountain which is great since that is where most of the trash problems exist these days.
A: Coming off the “Everest fight” last year, do you think you all will shed light on the relationship between the Sherpa, the commercial guides and clients, and the independent climbers?
RO: Yes. As well as documenting the 2014 season which will form the spine of the film, we will also weave through a historical context, which will explore the broader context that built to the 2013 incident on the mountain. That inevitably will include the issues surrounding the commercialisation of Everest. Having said that, we won’t be focussing on the specifics of that incident, as that isn’t the purpose of this film.
A: Are you going to end up climbing Everest for the film?
RO: Yup, my main role (along with Ken Sauls) is to be the high altitude director/cinematographer who will shoot the ascent from the Sherpa POV all the way to the summit. I hope we can keep up with all the camera gear! We will be using oxygen which will help.
A: Where is your base camp for this project?
RO: Our base camp will be at the normal base camp spot along with all the other teams on the south side. I haven’t spent much time there (or in the Khumbu at all in peak season), but I’ve heard it’s similar to a little city on the glacier at 18,000 feet.
A: How have you been training to get ready for the high Himalaya?
RO: I’ve actually taken it pretty seriously since I got into a ski accident where I lost a vertebral artery which is half the blood supply to the brain. I’m a little concerned about the altitude. I’ve been to ~22.000 feet with Conrad Anker and Jimmy Chin on The North Face expedition to climb Meru a few years back but Everest is a whole new level, and I’m not sure how I’m going to perform.
So, I’ve been doing a lot of cardio as well as oxygen deprivation training with the Hypoxico systems doing workouts and sleeping at high altitude to give myself as much as a jump start as possible.
A: What cameras will you be using?
RO: We have a plethora of cameras for all different types of situations from the Arri Alexa and RED EPIC to GoPros and Canon 5Ds. We will see how the bigger cameras perform as we get closer to the summit, I’m certainly dreaming of shooting the sunrise on the summit ridge with the RED if it can handle it.
A: Does an iPhone camera work in the Himalaya? What are your favorite photo apps right now?
RO: Yup, for better or worse there is cell and data service in a lot of places in the Khumu Himalaya. I think you can even make a call from the summit of Everest if you are able to muster the energy. I hope we can share some of the journey and insights into the Sherpa experience as it taking place, you can follow us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/sherpafilm, and I’ll also be tagging #sherpafilm in my instagram @renan_ozturk. Thanks for the interest in the story, I think its going to a really important one to tell for the world of climbing culture.