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Meet the Sundance Filmmakers #33: Nick Ryan Revisits the Deadliest Day on the World’s Most Dangerous Mountain in ‘The Summit’

Meet the Sundance Filmmakers #33: Nick Ryan Revisits the Deadliest Day on the World's Most Dangerous Mountain in 'The Summit'

It’s been almost 20 years since Nick Ryan, along with three friends, began Image Now Films to work on commercials and graphic design. In the intervening time, Ryan has maintained his connection to the film world, also taking part in animation and music video production. The Dublin filmmaker has drawn on those past experiences to present “The Summit,” a feature-length doc about an especially perilous journey.

What It’s About: “It’s about the deadliest day on the world’s most dangerous mountain.”

Now What It’s REALLY About: “It’s a story of death and survival and a mystery that surrounds the final actions of one of the climbers, who broke the unwritten code of high altitude mountaineering by stopping to help others who were trapped and injured. Morality is skewed 180 degrees in the area known as the Deathzone, and I think the choices that are made at that altitude are really interesting and they show how everyone reacts differently.”

Biggest Challenge?: “When we started working on this initially, it was only weeks after the actual events, and I remember thinking it was far too soon. I could scarcely imagine what the families and climbers felt about what had happened. It all seemed so raw. The interviews took place over a two year period, the first in October 2008 and the last in January 2011. The last interviews were with Cecilie Skog and she spoke so candidly about witnessing the death of her husband Rolf. Asking people to go back to those memories was one of the biggest challenges personally.

“I love making films, and the physical and mental challenges of shooting at altitude were pretty tough. Stephen O’Reilly and myself certainly undertook high risks filming K2 from the helicopters, but I felt we couldn’t make the film without showing the incredible location, a huge part of why those who choose to climb it, go there.

“Possibly the single greatest challenge is in choosing what stories to tell, as it was an incredibly complex story with so many characters. There were many stories of heroism and survival on the mountain that day.”

What I Shot On: “The film was shot on many formats and cameras, RED, Cineflex, Sony EX-1/3’s, Canon 1D, and about forty percent of the film is archive material shot on everything from 16mm to Canon HDV cameras.”

What I Want Audiences To Remember: “The best any filmmaker can hope for is a reaction, something that people can discuss and debate. There are questions that will always be left unanswered, that is part of the mystery. I hope that perhaps people who feel they have no connection to mountaineering will get something from it all. I never set out to make a film about mountaineering, I am not a mountaineer. I was drawn to what can be seen as the obsession in wanting to climb this mountain. The statistic for standing on the summit of K2 and surviving is one in four…you have better odds playing Russian roulette, and that seemed crazy to me. I wanted to know: why would you put yourself there? I hope the film helps answer that.”

Films Used for Inspiration: “I don’t think any specific film inspired or influenced the making of ‘The Summit.’ It is quite different to anything I had made before. It’s a pretty complex story and I knew I wanted to make the narrative flow, grab the audience and hold them in the story.”

In the Works: “I am working on a few projects but none I can talk about at the moment! Bet that’s a popular answer….”

Indiewire invited Sundance Film Festival directors to tell us about their films, including what inspired them, the challenges they faced and what they’re doing next. We’ll be publishing their responses leading up to the 2013 festival.

Keep checking HERE every day up to the launch of the festival on January 17 for the latest profiles.

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