Bombardier Blood


The majestic wasteland that is Everest.

(2019) Documentary (Believe Ltd.) Chris Bombardier, Laurie Kelley, Jessica Bombardier, Om Krishna, Alan Bombardier, Rilen Jangbu Tashi Sherpa, Ryan Waters, Val Bias, Cathy Bombardier, Donna DiMichelle, Amy Board, Michael Wang, Marilyn Manco-Johnson, Sue Geraghty, Sharon Funk. Directed by Patrick James Lynch

 

Some people take on challenges to test their limits. Others, because they want to prove to themselves that they can do it. However, there are those who take on challenges to inspire others. These are what become (or should be) role models.

Chris Bombardier is such a man. The 31-year-old (at the time of filming) Coloradan has set a goal of climbing the highest peaks on each continent – the so-called Seven Summits. This isn’t unusual for the more intrepid mountain climbers, but Chris is a little different – he has hemophilia.

For those who are unaware, hemophilia is a genetic blood disorder in which the sufferer is born without a clotting agent – usually Factor VIII or Factor IX. About one in 10,000 people have it. It was once called the Royal Disease because several royal families in Europe had it, including the Romanovs of Russia, whose heir to the thrown Alexei famously suffered from it, pushing the tsarina Alexandra to bring in a faith healer when doctors were unable to ease her son’s suffering – a healer named Grigori Rasputin.

A century after those days, modern medicine has been able to give hemophiliacs fairly normal lives. A pharmaceutical firm, Octopharm, has been able to produce the two clotting agents which hemophiliacs must periodically inject into themselves, the same way a diabetic injects themselves with insulin. However, those who live in less developed countries don’t have access to these clotting factors. Bombardier works with a non-profit, Save One Life, that is dedicated to getting the medicine to those who are unable to afford it or live in areas where getting the medical treatment isn’t possible. Without the clotting factors, the disease can be deadly

So, Chris has taken on climbing the Seven Summits in order to call attention to hemophilia; on one hand, to show hemophiliacs that they can live normal, athletic lives if they so choose but also to bring the work of Save One Life to the attention of the world. He has already succeeded with several of the peaks. Now he is ready to take on the highest peak in the world, with its own set of challenges – Everest.

As Chris has two concurrent goals for his climb, the film has really two parts. The first part talks about hemophilia, Save One Life and Octopharm, as well as introducing us to Chris who chose to live a healthy, physically fit life, playing baseball until college. The second half is about the climb. This isn’t a nail-biting, will-he-do-it type of movie; the second half is less a thriller than a travelogue. However, Chris and his wife Jess come off as an admirable, compassionate couple. Sure, Jess worries about her husband – it would just take one accident on the peak to put Chris into serious trouble – but she supports who he is and indeed, loves him for it.

The movie isn’t so much about Chris climbing Everest as it is about the mountains we all have to climb. In that sense, this is an inspirational film that gives us motivation to scale those peaks even if they seem insurmountable. There is certainly nothing wrong with a movie that can do that.

REASONS TO SEE: Lots of good information about hemophilia.
REASONS TO AVOID: Doesn’t get to the mountain climbing until about halfway through, acting almost as an infomercial for Octopharm and Save One Life until then.
FAMILY VALUES: There are some disturbing medical photos.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The executive producer is Alex Borstein of Family Guy and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel fame.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, Fandango Now, Google Play, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 9/10/20: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet, Metacritic: No score yet
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Beyond Skiing Everest
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT:
Benjamin

Beyond Skiing Everest


Mike Marolt ponders the cost of his obsession.

(2018) Sports Documentary (1091Mike Marolt, Steve Marolt, Jim Gile, Jewel Kilcher (narrator), John Callahan. Directed by Mike Marolt and Steve Bellamy

 

High altitude skiing is not for the faint of heart. It combines two disciplines – mountain climbing and skiing – and requires stamina (because the moment you finish your scaling of a peak, you are skiing down it) and courage as mistakes at these heights can be costly. As Gile ruefully puts it, “I don’t want my last word to be ‘Oops’.”

Identical twins Mike and Steve Marolt and their boyhood buddy Jim Gile grew up in Aspen, Colorado, where you learn how to ski almost before you learn how to walk. They previously appeared in the documentary Skiing Everest (2009) which documented their attempt to climb up the world’s tallest and arguably most famous mountain and then ski back down it – without oxygen or Sherpa guides. That attempt proved frustrating as the commercialization of Everest has led to logjams of dilettantes going up the paths which have been set for them by Sherpas who have also thoughtfully provided pre-set ropes. For those attempting to scale the mountain without oxygen, stopping can be deadly.

The trio, all enshrined in the Skiing Hall of Fame, decided that going up mountains that were more remote, more off the beaten path, would suit their purposes better. Therefore their de facto leader Mike began researching peaks above 8,000 meters (a smidge under 26,250 feet) that had good snow and few climbers. They would travel the world, from the Andes to the Himalayas, documenting their attempts. They have skied down more peaks above 8,000 meters than any humans have ever done, and they do it by so-called pure climbing – without the aid of oxygen or guides.

=The documentary combines the footage taken on their many trips which is often impressive indeed, along with interviews with the three men, who are now in their 50s and still finding mountains to climb and ski back down. There is little to no input from anyone else other than the three; the disadvantage to that is that it robs the film of context. We hear the men talk about the various trips like this is a vacation movie they’re showing on super-8 film for friends. While their expertise is undeniable we get little understanding about why they do what they do, why they chose these particular mountains other than the criteria I mentioned above, and what others think of their accomplishments.

Also, in a nearly criminal move, we never hear from their families and loved ones that are left behind for months at a time; only in the last ten minutes do we even realize that they have families and get the sense that their absences are difficult on them. We only hear through the mouths of the three men themselves; their wives and children do not appear to speak for themselves. One suspects that the subjects of the documentary might not like what they hear.

One can’t help but admire the accomplishments of these three men and they seem to be pretty eloquent speakers, but I would have appreciated some other points of view other than theirs. That would make for far more interesting viewing and a less homogeneous documentary.

REASONS TO SEE: Some really extraordinary vistas.
REASONS TO AVOID: At times feels a bit like a home movie.
FAMILY VALUES: There’s some mild profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: High Altitude skiers, in addition to the mountain climbing gear they must take, add an average of sixty pounds to their packs for their ski equipment.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, Google Play, Microsoft, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/1/20: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet, Metacritic: No score yet
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Himalayan Ice
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then the Bigfoot

Return to Mount Kennedy


There are all sorts of ways to conquer peaks.

(2019) Documentary (1091Bob Whittaker, Chris Kennedy, Eddie Vedder, Malcolm Taylor, Senator Robert Kennedy, Jim Whittaker, Mark Arm, Bruce Pavitt, Matt Lukin, Steve Turner, Leif Whittaker, Dan Peters, Dave Hahn, Blanche Montbroussous, Eric Becker, Brian Jones, Dr. Michael Ross, Rich Hayward. Directed by Eric Becker

 

Often, we compare the greatest obstacles in our lives to mountain peaks. Scaling those peaks is used as a metaphor for overcoming those obstacles. Like our own limitations, the loftiest peaks are often the ones in our own mind; once we get around to climbing them, we find they aren’t so tall after all.

Bob Whittaker lived under an enormous shadow. His father Jim was the first American to scale Mt. Everest and was a national hero. He also co-founded the REI sporting goods chain and was the CEO there until he retired a few years ago. He is named for one of his father’s closest friends; Senator Robert Kennedy, the brother of the former President and former Attorney General during his brother’s administration.

In 1965, the tallest unscaled peak in North America was Mount Kennedy in Canada. As the peak was named for his brother, then-Senator Kennedy thought that it would be fitting if he were to accompany the first team to scale the peak. Even though he had no previous mountain climbing experience, the Senator was in safe hands as one of the leaders of the expedition was Jim Whittaker. It was there that the two formed a bond that would last until the Senator’s tragic assassination in Los Angeles just three years later. Bobby Kennedy’s son Chris speaks affectionately of Jim Whittaker taking on some of his late father’s duties, helping guide the young boy into manhood.

But Jim was away a lot during Bob’s childhood and the two grew estranged. Bob became a part of the grunge scene in Seattle in the 80s and 90s, becoming road manager for the indie rock legends Mudhoney. A somewhat wild and personable young man, he became the face of the Seattle scene for many. To this day he counts among his friends such luminaries as Eddie Vedder. Bob would eventually become road manager for REM for a dozen years before moving on to all sorts of other bands.

But rock music is a young man’s game and as Bob grew older, he began to pull away from the glamour of the music scene. He began to appreciate the joys of the wilderness. He became active in creating and maintaining green spaces in and around Seattle, and then in Washington state. Like his father before him, he became an avid conservationist and outdoorsman.

As the 50th anniversary of his father’s trek up Mount Kennedy with his good friend Robert Kennedy loomed, Bob began to think about that accomplishment and what it meant to his family. He decided that it would be a good opportunity to reconnect with his brother Leif, who had followed in his father’s footsteps and become a respected climber. Chris Kennedy was also invited and the son of the late Senator jumped at the chance even though he, like his father before him, had no mountain climbing experience.

The documentary tells the parallel stories of the two expeditions to the mountain in alternating fashion, entwining the story of the elder Whittaker and the late Presidential candidate with that of their sons. Legacy plays a big part in the movie’s theme; for all three of the men, their father’s achievements are inspiration to do something important with their lives. While at times it is a burden to them – as it is to most sons – it is also a source of pride to them as well – as it is to most sons.

The movie has almost a schizophrenic nature; there are the serene, wild places of the mountains and the Pacific Northwest and there’s the loud grunge, rock and roll excess of the music scene. Both make up different sides of Bob Whittaker and both are equally valid, even if he is emphasizing the mountains more than the music these days. It couldn’t have been an easy path from one to the other; it certainly isn’t the path most take in that direction but it seems to have worked for Whittaker.

But it isn’t Bob Whittaker’s movie alone, even if he is in most respects the central character. It is about family, first and foremost; for sons paying tribute to fathers. Its friends gone but not forgotten. It also gives us a glimpse at Bobby Kennedy and even as brief and superficial a glimpse as it is, it makes one sad to think of all the good he might have accomplished had he not been murdered for no real reason.

I don’t know that this is necessarily inspirational. I didn’t feel moved to recreate my father’s greatest triumphs by watching this but I was given a certain feeling, one of knowing that like Bob Whittaker, Leif Whittaker and Chris Kennedy, I’m walking in the footsteps on the trail my own father blazed. Being reminded of that may not necessarily set the world on fire, but it is important – and comforting – nonetheless.

REASONS TO SEE: Bob Whittaker’s enthusiasm is infectious. The stories from the first climb are fascinating.
REASONS TO AVOID: Loses a bit of focus during the last third.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some profanity and a bit of drinking.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Mount Kennedy lies in the St. Elias Mountain Range located in Kluane National Park, in Yukon, Canada. The peak was named for the slain U.S. President John Fitzgerald Kennedy in 1964 as a tribute by the nation of Canada.
BEYOND THE THEATER: Amazon, AppleTV, Fandango Now, Google Play, Microsoft, Vimeo, Vudu
CRITICAL MASS: As of 11/15/19: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet: Metacritic: No score yet
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Free Solo
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT:
The Warrior Queen of Jhansi