Monday, September 17, 2007

BFF: Team Everest: A Himalayan Journey

Saturday turned out to be "inspirational sports night"; I saw Team Everest directly after a featurette on "The World's Oldest Basketball Team". That was, shall we say, sparsely attended - me, the filmmaker, and another filmmaker. No tickets were sold, so the theater thought it would be okay to send people in to clean up.

There's been a little grumbling on the lack of publicity for the BFF and its films this year; often, it seems films without Hollywood stars are getting attendance based on vested interests - people who know someone with Marphan's came to Mo, people who know the cast and crew of other films come to them. About half the turnout for Team Everest seemed to be people connected with the film. I don't know if things would have been different if they hadn't done the weird, overlapping schedule with Lars and the Real Girl, but it certainly couldn't have helped.

Team Everest: A Himalayan Journey

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 15 September 2007 at AMC Boston Common #17 (Boston Film Festival 2007)

Team Everest means to inspire you. It exists for that. Even if Andy Cockrum hadn't been along to make a movie, the expedition it chronicles was still put together in order to inspire disabled people, by showing that they could excel in extreme situations. Maybe they can't all summit Everest, but they can make it to base camp, still a rough hike at high altitude.

The expedition leader, Gary Guller, has attempted to climb Mount Everest before, but the film starts with a dramatized flashback to an earlier date, when a fall while climbing in Mexico killed one of his partners and cost Guller his left arm. He remains a top mountaineer and motivational speaker. At one of his speeches, quadripalegic Gene Rogers asks if Gary could take him on an expedition. It sounds absurd, at first, but Guller warms to the idea. Eventually, he organizes an trip to Everest's base camp, some eighteen thousand feet above sea level, from which he would continue to the summit. A dozen or so disabled people, mostly from Texas, will join Guller and Rogers, along with the dozens of Sherpas and Porters used by a successful trek. They're led by Guller's friend Nima Dewa, who brings along two disabled people from his own village.

The expedition is made up of colorful people. As expedition leader, Gary Guller is in charge of over two hundred people, and as such he's got to be a bit of a taskmaster, especially with regard to safety. He's also a captivating, larger-than-life figure - some people talk with their hands, and even though he's only got one left, he gesticulates as much as anyone with a full complement. Gene's brother Robert is there to assist him, and while Gene is paralyzed, he's a world traveler while Robert hasn't even been camping in years - but Robert is a cut-up, talking a mile a minute in a goofy mock-Scottish accent. Mark Gobble is a teacher at a high school for the deaf, and brings interpreter Christine Kane along with him. Matt Standridge and ex-Army cadet Riley Woods have similar spinal injuries and develop a sort of friendly competition to see who can do more. Lakpa, an elderly lama from head Sherpa Nima Dewa's home village, is as excited as anyone to see Everest; he had lost his arm to a snake bite as a child. Dinesh Ranasinghe frequently winds up bringing up the rear with his prosthetic leg, but he does make it to the way stations. And there are a half-dozen others.

The team members aren't just interesting for their disabilities, but there's no doubt that their circumstances make things more intriguing. The mechanics of Dinesh's leg are nifty, for instance, and team doctor Janis Tupesis points out that the paralyzed members of the expedition are in particular danger, since they won't feel any damage that the bumps to their legs might cause. Wheels on a new chair don't quite works as planned, and wheelchairs aren't exactly ideal for the rocky environment (or for being carried.

The footage of Nepal itself is also beautiful. I don't know whether filmmaker Andy Cockrum was working with film or HD video, but he gets a lot of beautiful images, form the stark majesty of the mountains themselves to the bridges connecting them. He'll capture scenes like the expedition pitching their dome tents for the night, cut somewhere else, and then back to the same shot the next morning where there's a couple inches of snow on the ground, and not make a point of it. My favorite image from the movie is probably a shot of the village of Namje, which is carved into the side of a mountain like an amphitheater.

In a way, that shot illustrates a recurring subtheme to the movie - that the Nepali people have adapted to a challenging environment much the way that disabled people have, through the use of well-applied technology and engineering. Maybe it's not quite so obviously cool as an aerodynamic wheelchair made of lightweight materials, but note is made of how the baskets they use are designed to make use of the entire spine. The whole film is obviously about challenging limitations, and that means both being tough and accepting that you are going to need some help, both technological and human, to geth through some things.

The audience knows that's going to be the message from the moment they buy the ticket, if not before, so it's a matter of how well Team Everest can get out its inspiring message. The answer is that it's quite uplifting indeed, and the team members' personalities are just as big a reason for that as their disabilities.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"Team Everest" is a great movie -- it does more than entertain, but entertain it does without car crashes and explosions. Instead real people reveal their hopes and dreams. It's a movie that makes you feel, think and dream.

Bob Orabona