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To Live and Die on a Mountain
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Matt Dickinson

      . . . adventure filmmaker and writer. Matt specializes in documenting the wild places in the world and the indigenous peoples who live there. His documentaries have been broadcast by the BBC, National Geographic Television, the Discovery Channel and the Arts & Entertainment Network. Matt returns home from adventures to his wife and three children in England.

Excerpts3:46 secs

      Matt Dickinson had no intention of climbing Mt. Everest.  He just wanted to make a movie. Matt's a free-lance filmmaker. Maybe you‚ve seen his adventure documentaries on the BBC, National Geographic Television, the Discovery Channel or Arts & Entertainm ent. Matt‚s objectives were not extreme physical feats in the exotic places he went. His challenges were putting together deals to film other people‚s expeditions in the world's wild places.

      Matt's life-altering adventure began when his phone in London rang. Act One: Would he like to film a local hero intent on scaling the treacherous North Face of Mount Everest? Make it happen. Act Two played out in the deadly spring of 1996 -- facing th e summit, the actor Matt was supposed to be filming turned back. Matt's movie was in shambles but his adventure was born. Suddenly, Matt was infected with summit fever.  He was unable to resist the urge to climb to the top of the world. He even had con siderable hope of getting back down. Alive. By the end of Act Three, Matt had transformed himself from observer to participant, added "writer" to his credits and had the final scenes for his documentary. He tells the tale in _The Other Side of Everest: Climbing the North Face Through the Killer Storm_.

      What possessed Matt Dickinson? The need to finish his movie. All the carefully laid plans that looked so good in London came unstuck as he and his team worked their way up the arduous Tibetan side of Everest. The killer storm complicated things further . And as Matt had observed in other expeditions, people do change under stress, relationships get tense, and objectives get lost.

      If there‚s a moral to the story, Matt believes, it is that no one‚s script in life is what we think it's going to be. Mt. Everest got to play a role in his -- the mountain, he found, has a way of exerting its own pressures and controls on people, of fost ering an eerie relationship. But the relationship is not personal. What matters, he found, is the way we approach our own mountains. That also determines the outcome. Assuming one has a clear enough sense of one's limitations to get both up and down M t. Everest, life's questions don‚t change. If one is very lucky (and Matt Dickinson is very lucky,) one comes down more flexible about how those questions get answered.

      Mt. Everest changed Matt, he believes, because Matt changed himself. He went up a filmmaker, came down a mountaineer. His movie had an ending, he had morphed from observer into participant and a writer was born.

      And Mt. Everest? It just keeps pushing toward the sun, the wind on its face(s).


[This Program was recorded May 18, 1999 in Atlanta, Georgia, US.]

Conversation 1

Matt Dickinson describes his life as a free-lance filmmaker inspired by exploration to Paula Gordon and Bill Russell. He compares his profession to that of Sherpas.


Conversation 2

Mr. Dickinson, who has filmed indigenous people the world over, describes the physiology of humans who inhabit high altitudes. He describes going from an observer and objective documenter of expeditions to being a full fledged participant in scaling the North Face of Mt. Everest. He describes how his body reacted to those extreme conditions. He compares expeditions to tours, noting how people change under stress. He describes how enormously difficult it was to make his film. He recalls how Everest p recipitated changes in his professional career.


Conversation 3

Altitude amplifies all of mountaineering‚s problems, says Mr. Dickinson. He celebrates the tangibility of the actual experience of climbing Everest, comparing it to „virtualš experiences. He names significant dangers, particularly „The Death Zone.š He shares his astonishment at how hard a place Everest is. He remembers his journey from observer to participant.  He declares his enormous respect for Everest. Mr. Dickinson suggests what he believes really kills people on Everest. He describes catching „summit fever.š He sees differences between his team‚s experience and the disaster that befell and killed climbers simultaneously on the South Face.


Conversation 4

Fear is addressed. Mr. Dickinson gives examples of how high levels of fear and risk can promote high levels of safety. He uses stories from his various films to distinguish between adrenaline junkies and people intent on meeting difficult objectives. H e describes the meticulous plans the best expedition leaders make. He compares and contrasts his own experience as a filmmaker who climbs mountains to DAVID BREASHEARS, a mountaineer who learned to make films (including the IMAX film „Everestš).  Mr. Dickinson expresses his belief that the entertainment industry pushes documentary filmmakers toward danger. He recalls the history of expedition cinematography.  He suggests a need to reintroduce humanity into adventure films, describes what happens to people in extreme situations and wonders about the direction of the entertainment business.


Conversation 5

Transporting people into different worlds intrigues Mr. Dickinson, both in writing and filming. He compares his own life experiences to the cycles of a story and the elements of a script. Talking about mortality, he describes the experience of walking t hrough an open grave yard of mummified bodies as one climbs Everest. He tells of the environmental problems climbers have created on Everest. He compares the experiences and abilities of women and men climbers, the differences between the North and Sout h faces of Everest. He tells of the splendor of this mountain which rests on top of mountains. He gives a sense of the precarious nature of making adventure documentary films, a process which he compares to mountain climbing.


Conversation 6

Transporting people into different worlds intrigues Mr. Dickinson, both in writing and The shopping list of things people want Mt. Everest to sort out for them is an illusion, according to Mr. Dickinson.  He describes the magnetism Everest has for humans and summarizes the difficulty of achieving that height, an experience which lives on in his dreams. He offers sound advise for anyone considering the climb.


Related Links:
Matt Dickinson recounts his adventure in The Other Side of Everest:  Climbing the North Face Through the Killer Storm, published by Times Books.


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