2015 Sundance Docs in Focus: MERU

meruNext up in the US Documentary Competition: Jimmy Chin and E Chai Vasarhelyi’s MERU, which tracks multiple attempts to scale a dangerous peak by three determined mountain climbers.

Sundance Program Description:

Rising above the headwaters of the sacred Ganges River in Northern India, the magnificent Shark’s Fin of Mount Meru is a 21,000-foot peak stacked with so many obstacles that it’s both a nightmare and an irresistible siren call for the world’s toughest climbers – many of whom have attempted and failed to summit the elusive mountain. MERU is the electrifying story of three elite American climbers – Conrad Anker, Jimmy Chin, and Renan Ozturk – bent on achieving the impossible.

On their first attempt in 2008, the trio battles 19 days of violent storms and sub-zero temperatures, teetering on a portaledge night after night, only to be beaten back 100 meters from the top. Returning home, a series of disasters, losses, and doubts seriously test their dream of one last try. Finally in 2011, they confront the breathtaking, treacherous Meru once again. But at what cost?

Shot with dazzling beauty in death-defying conditions by Chin, this immersive chronicle of friendship and an obsessive relationship with a mountain explores the mysterious magnetism of the ultimate challenge – where physical and spiritual realms converge.

Some Background:
Director/producer E Chai Vasarhelyi’s previous films include the Tribeca award winner A NORMAL LIFE, the Toronto debuting YOUSSOU NDOUR: I BRING WHAT I LOVE, and the SXSW award winner TOUBA. She has received support from the Sundance Documentary Film Program and participated in the Sundance Labs with her upcoming project on Senegal’s presidential election, INCORRUPTIBLE. This is the feature directorial debut for her husband Jimmy Chin, a North Face athlete and professional photographer, who also produced and shot the film, the latter with fellow climber/subject Renan Ozturk. He has previously shot and directed commercial work and branded content while also serving as a cinematographer for mountaineering documentaries for National Geographic and other venues. Producer Shannon Ethridge has worked with Chin and his fellow climbers on mountaineering film projects before. The film’s editor, Oscar nominee Bob Eisenhardt, is also a Sundance alum, having directed and edited GREEN CHIMNEYS (1997) and edited AMERICAN STANDOFF (2002), TWILIGHT: LOS ANGELES (2000), HITCHCOCK, SELZNICK AND THE END OF HOLLYWOOD (1998), and STRIPPER (1986).

Why You Should Watch:
Utah’s snowy mountain backdrop makes Park City an ideal venue for Chin and Vasarhelyi’s beautifully lensed study in perseverance, particularly for climbing and action sports aficionados. For viewers who might not cotton to the traditional “because it’s there” explanation for such risky activity, the film’s themes of mentorship and second chances will resonate strongly, providing additional lenses through which to view Chin, Anker, and Ozturk and their perilous mission.

More Info:
For more information, check the film’s still-in-progress website. Check out the film’s trailer. For the filmmakers’ thoughts on the film, watch their Sundance Meet the Artists profile and Indiewire filmmaker interview. For screening dates and times at Sundance, click the link in the first paragraph.

To experience the festival through the eyes of this year’s filmmakers, follow my Sundance filmmaker class of 2015 Twitter list.

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Filed under Documentary, Film, Film Festivals, Recommendations, Sundance

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