During the making of the new film Everest, about the 1996 storm that killed eight climbers, further tragedy struck on the world’s highest peak. In April 2014, 16 Nepalese guides perished in an avalanche. The film is dedicated to their memory. Then, this past April, a magnitude 7.8 earthquake took 19 lives on the mountain and more than 9,000 across Nepal.
“On a personal level, the earthquake was devastating,” says director Baltasar Kormákur. He hopes Everest can help disrupt the pattern that often follows natural disasters, where the world watches raptly for a week or two before moving on to fresh news. To that end, Universal, the film’s studio, is encouraging audiences to donate to Oxfam International in support of earthquake relief.
Kormákur shot Everest, which stars Jason Clarke, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Josh Brolin, in Kathmandu and at Everest Base Camp, before heading to the Dolomites, in northern Italy, which stood in for the treacherous Lhotse Face. The deaths during filming reinforced the movie’s underlying questions. “We want to know, What can we achieve?” Kormákur says. “But the commercialization of nature is a risky thing.”
Despite avalanche warnings in Italy and frigid nights throughout, the cast and crew knew their circumstances were vastly easier than those of the people they were portraying. In the end, Clarke says, he came to understand what drives people to climb the mountain. “The summit? You know the shape of it. It takes your breath away.”
Everest opens in IMAX 3-D September 18.