Reinhold Messner’s directorial debut: “Still Alive”
Nearly 40 years ago, Reinhold Messner took a GORE-TEX tent with him for the first time to an 8,000m summit. Since then, he has experienced innumerable adventures: first ascents, desert crossings and, not least, the construction of the Messner Mountain Museums in South Tyrol. Now, he has for the first time taken on directing, and his film premiered at the International Mountain Summit.
It wouldn’t be Messner if it hadn’t been some extraordinary story he had directed. As a matter of fact, it is about a mountaineering drama on Mount Kenya that occurred on 5th September 1970. The film is a combination of original recordings from 1970 and recreated scenes at Mount Kenya. The protagonists are two friends from Tyrol who wanted to climb Mount Kenya. The misfortune happened on the descent: One of the two – the young Tyrolean physician and mountaineer Dr. Gert Judmaier – plunged 30 meters and suffered an open leg fracture. The other, Dr. Oswald Ölz, tended to him with the simplest means and went for help. In those days this kind of thing was nearly impossible: A rescue at nearly 5,000 meters on impassable terrain in an exotic country without a trained mountain rescue service. As a matter of fact, a mountain rescue team from Tyrol was successfully sent to Kenya in less than five days, and this team rescued Judmaier on the seventh day. The fact that Judmaier even survived borders on the miraculous. “Life gifted us with this story”, said Messner during the subsequent discussion after the premiere. The protagonists themselves, Judmaier and Ölz, as well as professional climber and actor Hansjörg Auer, were also there. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="690"]oswald-olz-raimund-margreiter-reinhold-messner-hansjorg-auer-hanspeter-stauber-gerd-judmaier Oswald Ölz, Raimund Margreiter, Reinhold Messner, Hansjörg Auer, Hanspeter Stauber and Gerd Judmaier on the film premier at the International Mountain Summit.[/caption]

The mountain is directing

When asked about the primary challenge in his directorial debut, Messner said: “The mountain plays the leading part, we had to simple attune to the local conditions. The mountain was directing.” Production was done on Mount Kenya with great technical effort. And it made clear the fate that Judmaier experienced there for seven days: Swings in temperature from a sunny 20 degrees Celsius (68 degrees Fahrenheit) during the day to temperatures below freezing with snow and wind at night. As in his life up to this point, for Messner too is authenticity in this film of the utmost: Re-enacted scenes were shot at the original locations on Mount Kenya; Ölz and Judmaier were both on site. And the actors are also full-blooded alpinists in real life and not just trained actors, in order to ensure the alpine scenes were as authentic as possible. Hansjörg Auer, top mountaineer and winner of this year’s Paul Preuss Award, played Judmaier. Auer’s brother Vitus, also an alpinist, played Ölz. “Think of yourself in this situation – I’ll let the cameras run!” as Messner told the actors. My take: This is not a film for mountain romantics! It is a film that shows unvarnished tragedy. “Still Alive” vividly shows us what an endeavour this occurrence was back then – not only from a mountaineering standpoint but also from the mountain rescue’s view. I’m looking forward to more film projects from Messner.