Film from Jimmy Chin and E. Chai Vasarhelyi broke through in its theatrical release
Meru has already taken its place as one of the most successful documentaries this year. With plenty of momentum behind it, the film made its debut Tuesday on iTunes and Amazon streaming services.
Meru, directed by renowned climber Jimmy Chin and his non-climber wife, filmmaker E. Chai Vasarhelyi, recounts Chin's attempt with two fellow climbers to ascend one of the most challenging peaks on earth: the Shark's Fin of Mt. Meru.
When I interviewed the filmmakers before the theatrical release, Chin explained what makes Meru more difficult to ascend than Mt. Everest (which he has also summited):
It’s the style and the technical and requirements of it, for one. You have to be not just a good ice climber but a good rock climber and a good mixed climber which is using ice axes on rock and ice... You have to have the technical background for big wall climbing which requires a lot of understanding about systems – rope systems and all these different things. And then of course... you need to be able to function well at altitude.
Chin continued, "In terms of its comparison with Everest, it’s just a different type of climbing. You don’t have a huge team supporting you and carrying your equipment for you. But more than that – especially if you’re a guided client on Everest -- you’re not making your own decisions. You’re not assessing the risk for yourself. You have somebody else doing that for you and obviously we’re professional climbers and so we [Chin, Conrad Anker and Renan Ozturk] do that – we make our own decisions up there."
Vasarhelyi, for her part, sees Meru as much more than just a climbing film:
I’m a non-climber and the aspiration always was to bring to life the visceral experience of a climber and also that it’s not necessarily about “conquering a mountain” but there are other motivations as to why they do this. The story of friendship at the heart of Meru is something that I found very moving and compelling.
While it debuts on streaming services, Meru remains among the top five documentaries in theatrical release. This graphic shows its domestic total to date, as reported by audience measurement firm Rentrak:
Matthew Carey is a documentary filmmaker and journalist. His work has appeared on CNN, CNN.com, TheWrap.com, NBCNews.com and Documentary.org.