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K2: SIREN OF THE HIMALAYAS follows world-class alpinists Fabrizio Zangrilli and Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner with veteran climbers Jake Meyer and Chris Szymiec in a breathtaking high-altitude mountaineering experience. Director Dave Ohlson joins this group's epic K2 journey on the 100-year anniversary of the Duke of Abruzzi's landmark expedition in 1909. The documentary also examines the history and geography of the Karakoram mountains while contemplating the risks, rewards and personal nature of exploration in an age when there are few blank spots left on the map.Written by
One of the Best Documentaries About Himalayan Climbing
This is not a grand adventure film like "Vertical Limit" (2000) with explosions, stunts, and computer graphics. Nor is it a drama like "K2: The Ultimate High" (1991), nor an inquiry into a climbing disaster like "The Summit" (2012). Instead, it is a documentary about a 2009 expedition to K2. Produced by First Run Features, a small company specializing in documentaries about a wide range of subjects, "K2: Siren of the Himalayas" was actually filmed on location, and the events it records were real.
K2 is the second highest peak in the world. Although roughly 800 feet shorter than Mt. Everest, it is considerably more dangerous. The 2009 expedition included about a half dozen climbers, but "K2" focuses on expedition leader Fabrizio Zangrilli, Austrian Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner (who would become the first woman to climb all 14 of the world's 8,000+meter peaks without supplemental oxygen), and Jake Meyer, a British climber (said to be the youngest person to climb the highest peak on every continent) who had climbed Mt. Everest and came to K2 seeking something that was "much more of a challenge." The perspectives of these climbers are supplemented by insights from Chris Szymiec, who is leading an expedition to Broad Peak, which is on the opposite side of the Baltoro Glacier from K2.
Whereas the budget for "Vertical Limit" has been estimated at $75,000,000, that for "K2: Siren of the Himalayas" was only a little over $200,000. This may explain why, although she is fluent in English, the film incorporates some footage of Kaltenbrunner speaking in German (with English subtitles). This was probably originally filmed for one of several Austrian television shows about her. Its small budget may also explain why this film was shot with small hand held cameras, including a high definition camcorder. In some ways, this is an advantage, because these cameras provide close-ups of climbers in foul weather and on the most precipitous slopes. And, by zooming in on the mountainside, the cameras pick out climbers as tiny figures, invisible to the naked eye, showing how immense K2 really is.
"K2: Siren of the Himalayas" takes us on the journey from Islamabad to K2 over some very primitive roads, one of which is partially blocked by a rock slide. There are an explanation of acclimatization strategy, and descriptions of previous climbs and alternative climbing routes. The great strength of this film is its coverage of the climbers on the mountain, as they make their way up the Cesen (Basque Spur) and the infamous "Bottleneck" through wind-blown snow and around an avalanche, and spend their nights in extremely precarious camp sites. There are also impressive panoramic shots of the neighboring peaks. "K2" utilizes maps, and tags superimposed on the screen to identify individual mountains, camp sites, climbing routes, and climbers.
"K2" includes about 20 brief segments of still and motion pictures taken by photographer Vittorio Sella during the Duke of the Abruzzi's 1909 K2 expedition. The still pictures are mostly sharp and dramatic, but, not surprisingly, the motion pictures suffer from poor resolution. Accompanying these images are portions of Filippo de Filippi's report on the 1909 expedition, read by actor Simone Leorin. One might have preferred to have all the 1909 material in one place, but it has been distributed through the film so viewers can compare the experiences of the 1909 and 2009 expeditions in comparable stages in their work.
Extras include (1) "Rescue in the Karakoram" (13 minutes) uses footage shot after the K2 expedition of the successful rescue of an expedition cook suffering from high altitude cerebral edema, and the unsuccessful attempt to rescue a Spanish climber stranded on Latok II (7,108 meters) after an accident. (2) "Death on Broad Peak" (5 minutes) describes the death of an Italian climber who fell from a mountain next to K2. (3) "Gerlinde on Her 2011 Summit of K2" (9 minutes) consists almost entirely of Kaltenbrunner's description of how she reached the top of K2 in 2011, despite a storm and heavy accumulation of snow. This climb was much more complicated and difficult than the brief segment in "K2" implies. Curiously, Kaltenbrunner continued her climb on this occasion, although her husband considered conditions too dangerous and turned back. (4) "Gerlinde on Dhaulagiri" (3 minutes) presents Kaltenbrunner's comments on her climb on Dhaulagiri, but no film footage. (5) "Bonus Clips" (7 minutes) include outtakes of material omitted from the main feature.
If you want to see what it is like to climb in the Himalayas, you should watch this film.
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