“Dread, Trepidation, Anxiety and Misery”: Meru | Directors Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin
What fear — whether it’s personal, or one related to the development, financing, production or distribution of your film — did you have to confront and conquer in the making of your movie?
Fear is one of the central themes in Meru. Dread, trepidation, anxiety and misery plague the subjects of the film throughout both 2008 and 2011 climbs; their physical fears of falling, starvation, frostbite or dropping the camera and the more psychological dimensions of fear like failure, risk, and the unknown, often quite literally not being aware of what’s beyond the next pitch. In the film, Jimmy describes the dread associated with returning to Meru felt “like we were heading to the gallows.” Conrad, Renan and Jimmy can all speak at great lengths to how fear is a function of their professional climbing careers.
Paradoxically my fear as a filmmaker was my concern that the staggering physical dangers of the climb would overwhelm audiences ability to understand the complex personal decisions involved in the high stakes game of climbing in the Himalayas. We addressed this fear through the filmmaking and (I hope we conquered it) by trying to craft our story to allow the audience to get to know these men in their lives on and off the mountain and thus experience these difficult decisions as they make them, as they try to mitigate and negotiate these very fears.
As a filmmaker, I believe fear manifests itself in many ways. There can be lot of doubts. Will I be able to finance and finish the film? Is this story strong enough? Where is this film going to go? Will people connect with it? Will I be able to find a distributor? What if it doesn’t get into Sundance?! I think every filmmaker can relate to these types of fears.
As a professional athlete, particularly committing to climbing expeditions to remote mountains for first ascents, I have struggled endlessly with doubts and fears like whether or not we’ll get to the objective, will the expedition be successful, or on the more serious side, will something bad happen on this expedition, will all of us come home? As climbers, we are making constant calculations as to how to live with the physical fears but also the fear of letting down our families if we pursue these highly risky dreams. What if we don’t follow our dreams?
I am always taking risks and managing fear in my profession. There are certainly ways to manage fear. Evaluation of real risks versus perceived risk is one way to try mitigate fear and thus make calculated decisions. What I’ve learned is I can take calculated risks, but at the end of the day, despite the unknowns, you have to commit, you have to believe in order to pull off a successful expedition, or to make a film.
[PREMIERE SCREENING: Friday January 23 at 9:00 pm — Temple Theatre]