The K2 Summit disaster of 2008 was a widely reported event, one that swarmed our news feeds in early August for a few days, though very little information was known about the happening during the time. In brief, a total of 11 mountain climbers died between the 1st and 3rd of August, the general causes of which are believed to be a mixture of; summit fever, unexpected ice-falls, organisational problems and general confusion. For such an unexplained occurrence, there’s been little or no attempt to uncover or suggest the full story behind the K2 disaster besides horribly informed media coverage and speculation. Matt Ryan’s recent attempt at documenting the K2 accidents in his documentary The Summit is certainly an interesting one.
Given that the documentary is being conducted retrospectively, most of the footage is composed of filmed dramatisations, alongside brief glimpses of filmed footage from the expedition. In addition, we’re given extensive interviews with several of the survivors from the K2 summit expedition, alongside a look into the media coverage happening at the time. While the focus is quite wide and general, there’s a specific focus on the family and friends of Gerard MacDonnell, the first Irish man to reach the summit of K2.
A sign of a good documentary is when it feels purposely objective and undecided, when it permits the audience to piece together the information it represents, allowing them to come to their own natural conclusions. The footage presented shows varying opinions from each member of the expedition, different accounts of events, the film very much faces the fact that there is a huge gap in information due to those who died. Due to the treacherous conditions of the ‘death zone’, there are expected gaps in memory and perception, leaving the puzzle unsolved.
While the narrative, or flow of the documentary is quite loose and non-linear, the timeline of events The Summit covers is anchored by the disappearance of Gerard MacDonnell. As an audience we’re exposed to the legacy of the man, praise from his colleagues, the emotions his family and wife were feeling at the time of the event. As the running time progresses, a kind of tension develops, the film crosses the line from an objective, informative piece of documentary, to quite an emotive and captivating piece of cinema. In that regard The Summit is a surprisingly organic documentary, one focused on the danger and situation of these mountaineers as characters.
While initially The Summit seemed quite slow and rigid, by the climax the experience is completely captivating in the story it had to tell. Regardless of your interest in the topic matter The Summit is a gripping piece of documentary, one that will inform, entertain and startle you in one well-composed experience.
Director: Nick Ryan
Writer: Mark Monroe
Stars: Christine Barnes, Hoselito Bite, Marco Confortola
Runtime: 95 min
Country: Ireland, UK, Switzerland, USA