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Hillary: Ocean to Sky

"as poignant as it is funny"

★★★★ - STUFF 

- Film-maker Michael Dillon has made this film once before.

In 1977, Dillon was a member of Sir Edmund Hillary's Ocean to Sky expedition. On the team's return to New Zealand, Dillon assembled a good and unusually thoughtful documentary film of the adventure. From the Ocean to the Sky was a successful and well-liked piece, released in 1979, that still stands up well today. You can see excerpts from it on the NZ On Screen website.

A year or two ago, Dillon decided to revisit the film. And I am glad he has. The men who made the expedition are now six or seven decades into their lives. Some – including Sir Ed – are no longer with us. Age and the contemplation of mortality has added insight, context and wisdom to this re-examination of the great adventure the expedition became.

The plan was to use three New Zealand made jet boats to travel the entire length of the Ganges (Ganga) river – from the Bay of Bengal to the Himalayas – and then to climb a peak above the river's headwaters. In doing so, the boat crews would travel through some of world's most spectacular landscapes, visit communities of people who can measure their relationship with Ganga in millennia and then, at the very final stage of the journey, very nearly lose Sir Ed to a cerebral edema which would have killed him in a day, had the team failed to get him off the mountain.

Hillary: Ocean to Sky is a well thought-through tribute to the men of the expedition, to the warmth and generosity of their Indian hosts and – I guess – to a simpler, less adorned way of doing things. The boats look far too small and fragile to ever make the journey, while footage of the men hauling chilly bins of canned food up rock faces – like some demented Kiwi family picnic – is as poignant as it is funny.

And best of all, I reckon, is that no-one knew what the expedition became until they men returned home with their precious cans of 16mm film. In an era before live-feeds and updates, the expedition was lived with an intensity that is no longer possible.

This recounting of what was endured and achieved is all the richer – and often moving – for being allowed to mature for a few decades. Bravo.

- Graeme Tuckett, STUFF

Hillary: Ocean to Sky is now playing at Light House Petone, Cuba & Pauatahanui.

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