Setting aside my own familiarity with director Carl Woods and the Riding Everest team, 'My Everest' is a remarkable achievement of independent filmmaking that undergoes an arc of its own, reflecting the mindset of the key individuals it seeks to understand.
After providing a warm insight into Max Stainton's life, including the therapeutic effects of horse riding from an early age, the documentary dovetails into the premise of why Max and his team set their minds to travel on foot and horseback to Everest Basecamp. After they land in Nepal the tone shifts, and we experience an echo of the immense struggles of Max, then-girlfriend Candy, and his dedicated team of friends and Nepalese guides.
Through naturalistic handheld cinematography, colour timing that ranges from sweeping and majestic to bitterly cold and desolate, and a tense and eerie score, we are made to feel the tension, vertigo and remoteness of the expedition. The effect is equal parts transporting and debilitating. Seeing the team, and Max especially, struggle with the high altitude, keeping hydrated, and the shared emotional and physical exhaustion throughout the is raw and unfiltered. Perhaps, watching the experience is even enough to make one question the desire to go mountaineering up to Everest.
In many ways, the film itself undergoes its own arc; at first reflecting the naïveté, optimism and ambition of Max, his friends, and riding support in the lead up to the trek. Throughout the scenes in Nepal, we are given the unromantic and honest nature of the trek. Upon returning to England, there is still a lingering question of what all this hardship was for. There is commemoration for the group's achievements but with a reflective, almost empty, look back on it all before the film reaches its endpoint of greater meaning for its protagonists.
Demonstrating a nuanced, emotionally honest and original message of realising one's innate, and tremendous, self worth versus societal expectations, 'My Everest' is not a finger wagging lecture towards able-bodied individuals, nor is it another tired faux-inspirational tale. Rather, it places its audience in Max's shoes and those of his team of friends, riding support and Everest guides with honesty, sensory overwhelm and reflective compassion. By giving us a sense of that physical, mental, and emotional toil of their expedition, 'My Everest' asks us to consider that anyone can realise their own self worth and right to happiness of mind and spirit regardless of what society restrictions and stereotypes are placed.