“Everest” by Baltasar Kormákur, produced by Working Title Films and Cross Creek Pictures, the movie that will open the 72nd Venice Film Festival on September 2nd presented by Universal Pictures International and Walden Media, is about the attempt of two different expeditions to climb the highes tmountain in the world during the most ferocious snowstorms ever seen.
This epic ice adventure, inspired by true stories, features a stellar cast (Keira Knightley, Emily Watson, Jake Gyllenhaal, Jason Clarke, Josh Brolin, Robin Wright , Sam Worthington) and was filmed on the Val Senales Glacier in Alto Adige between February and March 2014, in extreme weather conditions, on a highly com- plex and spectacular set, the management of which seems to have faithfully mirrored the difficulties experienced by the protagonists “on the other side of the camera.
“It was a situation in which every professional worked to the limits of possibility”, says Manfred Waldner, director of the Val Senales Tourist Board.
In the valley the Tourist Board was a bit like the right arm of the Alto Adige Film Commission, the Business Location Südtirol, which supported the film with production funding amounting to 700,000 Euros.
The Val Senales, the movie’s main set, hosted around 250 people (between cast and crew) for 8 weeks, involving around ten hotel structures and many local companies which provided the services necessary for high altitude filming
The Val Senales had already been used as a set for a number of important theatrical works: “Das Finstere Tal” and two “Vacanze di Natale” movies filmed on the glacier, but “Everest” was a first: “’Das Finstere Tal’ was filmed in a chalet at 200 meters, with the state road nearby”, explains Waldner, “then the Americans and the British arrived, the people for whom “nothing is impossible”, and Kormákur himself (Editor’s note: who is Icelandic), is a real hard guy who held a briefing every day at 6 a.m. inside the marquee where the heating had not yet been turned on …”
“I have filmed in India, in Amazonia, in Colombia, but logistically this is the most difficult movie I have ever made”.
These are the words of David Nichols, the American producer, who has spent over 16 years in Italy where, with his Cineroma, he has worked on the most important international productions. Cineroma was the co-producer on “Everest”, in collaboration with Wilde Side.
3 film units and 2 logistical bases, one of which was in constant use for filming and the other always ready to be ‘fired up’ in order to move to the next location: “We had to find a solution because it was difficult to move our logistical base camp on the snow and ice with the heating, food, bathrooms and storerooms for all the materials and special effects. We replaced the trucks with giant metal sleighs onto which we put containers (Editor’s note: hired from the Alto Adige based company Niederstätter which operates in the building trade supplies sector) constantly heated by generators in order to prevent the equipment from icing up (Editor’s note: mainly hired from the Bolzano branch of the rental company Panalight Südtirol). The sleighs were towed by snowmobiles. We used ten or so of them assisted by the main ski resorts.”
The location manager and additional link to the region for Cineroma was Florian Mohn, the proprietor of Cinealp, a company specialized in filming in extreme high altitude conditions. “Everest” was also the most difficult set that Mohn had ever worked on. The biggest obstacle, he recalls, were “the prohibitive temperatures, -25 degrees which, due to the strong winds, felt more like -40. We had internally heated tents to maintain a temperature of at least -10,where we could sort out the costumes, make-up, and allow the cast and crew to rest and have some refreshments thanks to the catering provided by Paul Grüner of the Bellavista shelter who supplied us with 500 meals a day at a height of three thousand meters.”
Elikos of Pontives (BZ), a company specialized in the transport of heavy loads and aerial filming, supplied the helicopters which, continues Mohn “were used to transport the lighter and more urgent materials and sometimes the actors and director as well. They were very important from a safety point of view: when there was heavy snowfall with a risk of avalanches, they ‘bombarded’ the unstable snow in order to make the locations safe”.
The cast and crew nearly always reached the locations used for filming by cable car and chair lift thanks to the Funivie ghiacciai Val Senales ski lifts, however the high altitude filming also necessitated the construction of other installations which involved further complications.
Nichols explains: “Filming was actually supposed to start in January, and one of the most important locations in the film was the Everest Base Camp that we had set up at the base of the glacier, at Maso Corto, a place that was perfect on a scenic level, albeit very inaccessible. So we had to set up an ad hoc cable car.
Then we had to halt filming, which was put back for several weeks: at that point the base camp and cable car were under two meters of snow and unusable.
So we reconstructed the location in the back lot of Cinecittà, moving the whole set to the Studios.”
The problems involved in building the cable car were not only connected to the climate.
“The glacier is right on the border between Italy and Austria”, adds Florian Mohn, “which could not be crossed by the cable car, so they suggested that we interrupt it for five meters, right on the border, so that there was one on the Italian side and one on the Austrian side.
The Austrian army wanted to help us with the logistics but couldn’t because it is not authorized to cross the border with Italy.
We should make a movie about how, in order to make a film in a united Europe, it is impossible to build a cable car on a glacier that unites north and south Tyrol. A united Europe and a divided Tyrol!”
This demonstrates once again how, on an international set like that of “Everest” (the team consisted of Americans, Brits, Australians, Germans, Italians and Icelanders), the presence of locals is always fundamentally important: around 60 team members from Alto Adige were involved in all the technical departments. “On some days there were as many as 80 of them including Alpine guides, paramedics, extras and stuntmen for the climbing scenes”.
Some experts even came from quite far away, like Davide Breashears, “the American climber who took part in the expedition that inspired the movie (and is also a character in the movie itself), who brought around twenty Sherpas to Alto Adige from Katmandu, or Guy Cotter, the head of a company that organizes adventure expeditions on Everest and has helped save many people on the mountain” explains Nichols.
Katmandu was another of the movie’s locations, along with Pinewood Studios in London, where the indoor scenes and special effects were shot, like the snow storms, “which we also filmed on the glacier using the huge fans provided by the Studios.”
In addition to the Val Senales Glacier, other locations were also used for filming like Solda, Ortles (the highest mountain in Alto Adige, near the Swiss border),and Gran Zebru.
“The rock formation of the glacier and at Ortles are very similar to Everest, they could be described as its kind of “fun fair”” says Mohn, adding, “Alto Adige is a small region with a great variety of mountains: the Dolomites, the hilly area near Bolzano, the glacier…Compared to the Alps to the north of Switzerland and in Austria it also offers a milder climate: in April or May whilst in the higher mountains it can still be deep winter, in Merano or Bolzano the temperatures are almost summer-like, without counting the 300 days a year of good weather which is particularly beneficial for filming”.
Moreover, “the support of the region was fundamental for brilliantly sorting out any difficulties”. Nichols agrees: “the movie had a pretty big budget (around 70 million Euros) but not the budget of a big Hollywood blockbuster, so we had to be careful to keep an eye on the costs.”
Around 5 million Euros were spent in Alto Adige and the whole valley was involved in the production, from electricians to ski instructors: “the director and various actors had brought their families along for most of the filming, and their kids had lessons with our instructors”, says Waldner, “we are a small community of around 1200 people. In fact the only place you can buy cigarettes is at the petrol station!”
After the presentation in Venice, the movie will have its premiere in Bolzano on September 12th, realized in collaboration with Universal, Working Title and Salewa, the Alto Adige based company specialized in sports clothing, “a charity benefit event for Nepal” explains Mohn.
“Everest” will be released in movie theaters at the end of September and, for the Tourist Board, this will mark the start of its promotional campaign Waldner assures us, because “if a Hollywood production of this caliber has chosen the glacier in the Val Senales over others in Canada or Alaska, we can definitely say that we have the most beautiful mountains in the world!”