Filmmaker Dave Ohlson Talks About ‘K2: The Siren of the Himalayas’


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Way back in 2007, filmmaker Dave Ohlson was in Namche Bazaar talking to climber Fabrizzio Zangrilli about Luigi Amedeo di Savoia's 1909 expedition to K2. Savoia, better known as the Duke of Abruzzi, led a team to 20,500 feet, the highest point reached on the mountain up to that time. Ohlson mentioned to Zangrilli that 2009 would be the 100th anniversary of the Duke's expedition, and that it sure would be nice to make a film about it. Zangrilli remembered that conversation and, early in 2009, he called Ohlson. He was guiding a team up K2, and the filmmaker could tag along. While following Zangrilli and crew, Ohlson met other climbers on the mountain, including Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner. (No member of Zangrilli's team reached the summit in 2009, but everyone returned home safely.) Ohlson released a short on YouTube about the expedition in 2010, but now he's making a full-length documentary that will go deeper into the history of mountaineering on K2. He's looking for a little help via Kickstarter. I emailed him to find out more.

What was the hardest part of filming this movie? 
If I could go back and do this again, I would be so much better at it. There are so many difficult aspects. One is that I was on a climbing expedition, not a filming expedition. So on the way in, when I stopped to do some shooting, everyone passed me and I wouldn’t see them again until the evening. Once we were in base camp I realized I wasn't going to get enough sunlight to keep my batteries charged. Then I had some equipment failure that meant I couldn't use more than half my batteries. It was very frustrating and I had to be careful how much I shot because of it.

Once I was on the mountain, I found new obstacles. I had to keep my camera in my backpack so any time I wanted to pull it out it was kind of a hassle. Take off the backpack, anchor it, dig inside the pack, pull it out, etc. Sometimes, I would pull it out to shoot but I'd be breathing so hard it was difficult to keep the camera steady. In hindsight, it would have been nice to have a lighter camera for use on the mountain, but finances were tough and I barely made it happen with my existing equipment.  

What was the most rewarding part of filming? 
The great thing about filming on K2 is that you get to film on K2. It's spectacular. The views are incredible and the mountain itself is so complicated and dynamic. Bringing back images that try to capture that is a lot of fun. The mountains in this part of the Himalayas (the Karakoram) are really unlike any others. The glaciers absolutely fill the valleys between the towering peaks. And the relief is so great. K2 itself rises 12,000 feet above base camp. I also really enjoyed the historical aspect of our trip. Realizing that we were walking through the same places that the Duke of Abruzzi and his photographer, Vittorio Sella, did 100 years before was very rewarding.

K2. Photo: Dave Ohlson

How long did it take?
I spent about two and a half months in Pakistan and since then I've been slowly working on the post. In the last year I was able to pay for our 16mm film to be converted to video. I flew to Colorado to interview Fabrizio and did interviews remotely with Chris Szymiec and Jake Meyer [who were also on K2 in 2009]. I've also partnered with Webby and Emmy Award-winning director Jason Reid and his production team to edit with me and get all the post completed. The Kickstarter campaign has been launched to help pay for the costs associated with finishing. So in the end it will have been three years from start to finish.

In the trailer, it's mentioned that K2 is a different sort of beast than Everest. Why is it important for people to understand this difference? 
Everest has captured the popular imagination for a long time. Certainly, it is the highest mountain in the world. But we wanted people to understand that there are other challenges out there, bigger challenges. For the people who really pursue the extremes of high-altitude mountaineering, Everest is not the end game. I want people to have a better appreciation of that. 

What do you hope the end result of the movie will be?
I would like the end result to be a film that makes the world of high-altitude mountaineering a little bit more accessible to the average viewer. I want to tell people about the amazing journey of the Duke of Abruzzi, the incredible photographs of Vittorio Sella, and give them a little insight into why people still pursue these types of adventures.

To learn more about K2: Siren of the Himalayas, visit Kickstarter.

H/T: The Goat

—Joe Spring