Film Reviews

My Everest – Documentary Review

My Everest is the story of Max Stainton-Parfitt, and his wonderful support circle, as he takes on the challenge of getting to the Mount Everest base camp on horseback. A few things to note at the outset: ‘base camp’ conjures up an image of being at the bottom of the mountain.

For context, the altitude at that point is a challenging 5364m (out of the 8849m for Everest as a whole). This dwarfs, for example, Tenerife’s Mount Teide, which stands at around 3715m, and certainly leads to a shortness of breath when at the top. The second point to note is that Max is living with severe Cerebral Palsy. His effort to get to the base camp will be raising funds for the Riding for the Disabled Association (RDA), in the hopes that people like Max can benefit from learning to ride.

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Max lives in London, though his background is a little unclear. He was diagnosed in Mexico in 1993 (appearing, perhaps, three years old in the home videos of the time), and his mother Marta does appear to be from that part of the world. We do not see his father, though we see his brother, Oscar, who credits Max for helping him to overcome his shyness as a child. Max moved to London in adulthood, and his friends Andrea and Giles appear to be from an affluent background, suggesting they all had a solidly middle-class home counties upbringing.

Not that this is particularly relevant. Max lives with Candy, a woman he met through work, and we see lots of footage both from just before the expedition, and from his childhood, which paints a picture of an upbeat, positive, intelligent, energetic man who brings a great deal of happiness to everyone around him. Wherever this films takes us, we are in very pleasant company.

As for the trek itself, Max will be seeking to be the first disabled man to reach base camp, and he will be doing it on the back of a horse named Rocky, with a mixture of sherpas, planners, his two best friends, and Candy. Challenges include the fact that his body struggles to ride in anyway downhill, whilst his walking is not strong enough for uphill.

He will suffer significant spasms and do permanent further damage to an already bad hip, whilst fighting thinning air and the associated lack of oxygen, which proves deeply challenging even for the fittest of the group. We see his training, followed by practice days in Nepal. As we get closer to his destination, the party start to question the severe risks involved as all start to find conditions almost unbearable, and for Max, this could be putting his life at risk.

The story of the expedition is narrated largely in its aftermath, so we are never given the impression that Max might not make it, and in fact the immediate period post-homecoming is filled with TV interviews, a series of celebrations, followed then by his wedding to Candy (a Jewish ceremony).

This gives way, quickly, to a feeling that the risks were never worth it. Max describes his hip pain as ‘excruciating’ in a way it had never been before Everest, and he says he has ‘disabled himself further’ just to be taken seriously. He talks of having based his self-worth on the opinions of others. This leaves us, despite meeting his new-born baby – with the associated hope gifted by a new family – feeling bittersweet about what we have just seen. He did, however, raise £75,000, allowing the RDA to build a new training centre.

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At 98 minutes My Everest never outstays its welcome. We get just enough background from his friends and family to get a good sense of who Max is, and to come to care about him and what he is trying to achieve. Despite having regrets after what must have been an expensive trek to put together, he never comes across as self-indulgent, and his ability to examine the flaws that led him into the enterprise just reflect an intelligence and an ability to think and to reflect.

A debut feature from Carl Woods, it benefits from the natural beauty of Nepal and Everest, and as such it is not surprising that it has been selected to make its debut at the BFI on the country’s largest IMAX screen. One can only imagine it will look stunning in that environment. A nuanced work that does not allow itself to settle for a binary position of the expedition having been either a folly or a triumph, it stands as an entertaining testament to a man that in trying to prove he would not let his condition define him, briefly gave in to that actually being the case, but in that still managed to achieve something unprecedented.

My Everest is out in cinemas on 27th April, with a special Q&A screening at BFI IMAX on 27th April.


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