​Camera team risk their lives to world's highest mountain

By Zhang Rui
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail China.org.cn, July 21, 2022
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A new critically-acclaimed documentary portrays a team of heroic civilian mountaineers who risked their lives to climb the world's highest mountain, Mount Qomolangma, also known as Mount Everest. They recorded the whole process to inspire dream chasers worldwide.

A magnificent drone shot of Sula Wangping's mountaineering team at the Hillary Step on the Qomolangma in 2019. [Photo courtesy of Elemeet]

"Only about 520 Chinese people have reached the top of the Qomolangma; only they have seen the landscape on the top of the world with their own eyes," said Sula Wangping, the leader of the mountaineering team, star, and producer of the breathtaking documentary film "Captain Qomolangma."

"We recorded the process of climbing Mount Qomolangma and made this film for theatrical release, hoping that more ordinary people could appreciate the Mount Qomolangma up close. We also hoped to convey the spirit of never giving up and bravery while climbing the peak."

Filming in such a high and dangerous environment was a life-risking challenge. In 2014, Sula Wangping handpicked 10 mountain guides and trained them to be special cinematographers from scratch. In 2019, the team of 15 embarked on the journey to scale the Qomolangma from the Southeast Ridge through Nepal. Among them, eight climbers were just ordinary people; one was a translator; while the other six, including himself, shouldered the extra responsibility to film the journey. Besides standard cinematography, they also used drones to record the marvelous scenes, director Wu Xi introduced.

"Before the journey, they have practiced a lot in various climbing expeditions and opportunities. Their talent and hard-working efforts made them qualified high-mountain photographers," Wu said.

He added that different camera people had various assignments for drones, digital, and photography cameras, and they all helped each other. For example, their digital video cameras stopped working when they reached the summit. Thankfully, the man responsible for the single lens reflex camera, primarily used for photos, was able to shoot the video. 

A mountaineering cameraman films his team climbing the Qomolangma in 2019. [Photo courtesy of Elemeet]

The director said the biggest problem was batteries. "They needed to carry a lot of batteries. And the batteries were heavy, and they needed to be kept warm. The cameramen had to use their body temperature to protect the batteries from freezing so the filming could go smoothly."

The shooting was arduous. Every camera operator carried equipment weighing about 40 kg, while an average climber usually carried about 10 kg. "It was really difficult. In such an environment, it was challenging to climb. There were blizzards, low temperatures, a lack of oxygen, and the danger of avalanches, ice cracks, and slipping. They risked their lives for such stunning and beautiful scenes."

The drone footage is a major feature of the film. "We were wowed when the drone shots were put on the big screen. It's a grandiose, beautiful, and immersive experience," Wu said. Operating drones at high altitudes, in blizzards, and with constant freezing temperatures was tough. It took extraordinary courage and skills to ensure the smooth completion of the task, and the cameraman Luo Rijia eventually made it.

A magnificent drone shot of Sula Wangping's team climbing to the Qomolangma summit in 2019. [Photo courtesy of Elemeet]

In Wu's opinion, captain Sula Wangping is a courageous and responsible man with his specific dreams and goals and is willing to work hard for them. According to media reports, the project cost the Tibetan climber nearly 10 years and over 10 million yuan ($1.49 million). Sula Wangping had to mortgage his house to finance the film. "That's why I called my film 'Captain Qomolangma.' We all admire him. He can make the correct judgment at critical moments and withstood all the pressure of making the film and pushing it to theaters. We need more people like Captain Qomolangma in our society and every industry, even in enterprises and public institutions."

"Captain Qomolangma" is a film of many firsts. It is the first documentary to film the world's peak expedition and a complete presentation of the journey of climbing the 8,848-meter Mount Qomolangma. It is the first domestic documentary made using drones at high altitudes, taking off at 8,470.2 meters. The team was also the world's first to reach the summit in 2019, a year when eleven people reportedly died on the Qomolangma, making it the deadliest since 2015.

A photo shows Sula Wangping's team reaching the Qomolangma summit and exhibiting a Chinese national flag on May 15, 2019. [Photo courtesy of Elemeet]

The film recorded how the team went down the Qomolangma to safely return home and return to normal, which other mountaineering films seldom did. "It is more difficult and dangerous to go down the mountain. It requires more strength," Sula Wangping said. The film ends with heartwarming footage of team members reviewing their incredible journey, which will continue to inspire them for the rest of their life. 

"After the Qomolangma expedition, I felt that to be living is a great thing, and we should cherish everything around us. One may not climb such high mountains in their life, but you must have a mountain to climb in your heart," Sula Wangping said. The captain wanted more people to know about outdoor sports and what mountaineers think. 

Wu echoed, "I felt for the mountaineers. I'm very emotional to see these ordinary people achieve their dream together."

Sula Wangping was born in a village at the foot of San'ao Snow Mountain in Sichuan's Heishui county, where local citizens make a living by farming livestock or digging caterpillar fungus in the mountains. Later he worked as a mountain guide and eventually entered the mountaineering business. Director Wu believed the man's life and rise from herdsman to achieving his dream is a great and inspirational Chinese story. He wanted to share the story and the positive Chinese strength to the world in future foreign market releases or film festival exhibitions. 

Since the film went into production and was finally released on July 2 in the Chinese market, it has been overshadowed by the impact of COVID-19 that hurt many businesses, including film, tourism, and outdoor sports businesses. 

A poster of "Captain Qomolangma." [Photo courtesy of Elemeet]

"I don't care if I reach the peak of the film market; the true meaning of 'Captain Qomolangma' is about showing ordinary people's extraordinary faith and persistence," Sula Wangping concluded. "When the film went into production, the pandemic was rampant. Everyone faced great pressure; it was like an insurmountable peak. The climbing process is full of difficulties, dangers, and obstacles, but as long as we work hard, we get to the top, we overcome."

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