THERE ARE NO EASY JUDGEMENTS - A CONVERSATION WITH ELIZA KUBARSKA, THE DIRECTOR OF "K2. TOUCHING THE SKY"
Dawid Myśliwiec: The film "K2. Touching the Sky" was meant to be both the protagonists' attempt at coping with the past and a form of your own personal quest. Can you say now, from the perspective of time, that it did deliver on both these tasks?
Eliza Kubarska: It did deliver, even more than I could have expected at the very beginning, when we started working on the project. Because it is worth remembering that the making of the film took almost 5 years, among others, because of the high budget (shooting in Karakoram and using expensive archival materials), which we collected patiently for a long time. In the meantime, we all matured - me and my protagonists, who had time to prepare for this event, that is, for the expedition, not only personal, but also cinematic.
How much time did you have to spend in order to convince the protagonists to participate in this enterprise?The selection of the protagonists was limited to the people who were tried by the mountains in the cruellest way, as the mountains took their parents away during the K2 expedition. And because we touch traumatic events, it was clear that not everyone would be able to experience it anew, even if it could bring them relief. Two potential protagonists refused. These who remained trusted me. We managed to organise the K2 expedition. At a certain point, it became clear for me that our key moment would be 1986, when one of the greatest tragedies in the history of himalaism took place on K2. My protagonists' parents: Tadeusz Piotrowski, Dobrusia Wolf alias “Mrówka” and Julie Tullis died exactly then, and earlier they all met in the base camp at the foot of this mountain. Just like we did, almost 30 years later.
Which one of the protagonists experienced this expedition most powerfully?
Each of us experienced it in his or her own way. In the film, there is no trivial "rending one's garments," though during the expedition one could feel emotions growing in the protagonists. The closer to K2 we were, the harder it was to film them. Certainly, overall tiredness (the expedition lasted a month) must have contributed to it, but we felt that in fact it is not physical exhaustion that causes increasing difficulties, but the mountain, to which we were closer and closer. Because their parents are still somewhere on K2. Coming back to your question, I think that this expedition was the most difficult for Łukasz, who not only lost his mum on K2 when he was a little boy, but also lost his father in the Tatra Mountains a couple of years later. However, today he himself is an experienced mountaineer, so in general he knows what it is all about.
In the film, there are many bitter, unpleasant words. How did you cope with this moments of sincerity? You had to be a kind of therapist for the protagonists.
The mountains played the role of the therapist, because during a long hike they make it easier to listen to oneself. At the same time, it were the mountains that were "in the dock." In spite of this, they had their effect on us thanks to their enormity, showing the Alpinist parents as people who looked for something more in life. It is incredible that, in spite of the grief which every child, even fifty-year-old one, carries in his or her heart, they are very proud of their parents.
I was not afraid of difficult questions, because long before the expedition, during preparations for the film, I had several conversations with each of my protagonists. During filming, I patiently listened to their stories, but at the same time I went there to find the answer to my questions: are children capable of understanding their parents' passion? And they, these children, were supposed to help me in it. I was asking: can someone such as me have a child? And if yes, does it mean that I would have to stop climbing?
What was the most difficult thing in this enterprise?
Everything was difficult. The subject matter is difficult, because it deals with trauma, and it means that I as the film-maker have a great responsibility for the protagonists, greater than ever before. The environment was difficult, because the most important scenes were filmed at the altitude over 5000 m, sometimes in temperatures below zero, far from civilisation. Equipment failure could have meant the end of filming. Uploading the materials and watching it at nights in the mess tent (that is, the base camp tent) on the glacier, when our toes were frostbitten, was not always a pleasure, either. It was difficult not to exceed the budget, but the journey could take place only once. In addition, when we were setting out to Karakoram, in the summer of 2013, Nanga Parbat massacre occurred, 10 mountaineers were killed by terrorists.
Didn't you think about giving up?
We were wondering whether to cancel the long-expected filming. Over the years, it was not easy to be constantly motivated to make such a film, both in case of my own motivation and the protagonists' and the film crew's. However, in the meantime I made the film at sea around Borneo, Walking Under Water, which was well received at festivals around the world. It gave me a boost of self-confidence. One thing is certain – I am not the same person, who some 5 years before began working on the film "K2. Touching the Sky." I have changed, but the film probably benefited from it.
Did you receive any Alpinist revelations at the foot of K2? Do you know something more about your passion today?
I was shocked by the fact that at the foot of mountains such as K2 you pass human remains during the hike. You find a shoe and a foot inside. And you wonder: whose shoe was it? You are able to roughly determine the time from which it came. Sometimes, you can come across a whole body. As a mountaineer, I have never experienced anything like that before. I made sure that himalaism and great group expeditions with porters do not interest me. I prefer to climb in small teams and on the less frequented routes. When we were in the base camp at the foot of K2, we were studying the history of the events from 1986. In the last summit push of that season, 7 mountaineers from various expeditions joined together. Only two of them survived. In the world, a discussion started, similar to the one which took place in Poland after the Broad Peak tragedy in 2013. People tried to understand what had happened, but at the same time, they started to accuse the survivors of the deaths of the rest. There are no easy judgements here, and passing sentences from the comforts of one's home can be very unfair. I believe that in fact the only people who were not on these expeditions, but who can pass their own judgements, are the children of those who perished there.