Touching the Void

Filmmakers: Kevin MacDonald (director), John Smithson (producer)

Topic: English mountaineers Joe Simpson and Simon Yates’ near-fatal experience on Siula Grande, a mountain in the Peruvian Andes, in 1985. Based on Simpson’s best-selling book.

Financier: FilmFour and UK Film Council

Budget: $4 million

Shooting format: 35mm and Super 16mm (dramatic recreations) and HD (interviews)

Exceptional aspects: Simpson’s miraculous struggle for survival, which MacDonald conveys with a combination of voice-over interviews and riveting dramatic recreations.

Memorable scene: Yates, unaware that the badly wounded Simpson is dangling high above a giant crevasse, makes the decision to cut the rope connecting him to his friend.

Distribution/broadcast status: Released by IFC Films in January.

Box office: (U.S.) $4.6 million

On making the film: “This is a not a film about mountain climbing. If it were, I wouldn’t have made it,” says Kevin McDonald. “I’m not an outdoors person, but I was gripped by the human dimension and themes of this story. The big challenge was how to visually express what happened. Dramatized documentary seemed like the only way to do it.

“Joe and Simon said they’d be fine about going back to Peru. But when we got to the place where their base camp had been, Joe suddenly became ashen-faced. Tears came to his eyes and he was very shaken. His reaction was exacerbated by the fact that he knew he would be acting out the traumatic experience all over again. Joe began to have terrible flashbacks. It became emotionally exhausting for him and for the rest of us as well.

“We tried to present the situation as if there was nothing else Simon could have done in that situation, but some people still seem to think this film is about a guy who cut a rope on his mate.

“I had wondered why there are so few good films about mountain climbing, but now I know. Making this film was like entering a whole new world. I might as well have been going to Mars.”

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