Dianne Whelan discovered a corpse.
Climate change is causing the glaciers on Mount Everest to recede, unearthing corpses left behind on the mountain from past expeditions. Whelan was filming what would become her feature documentary 40 Days at Base Camp when she found one that had literally come out of the ice.
"I was very tactful in terms of how I show it in the film," she says by phone while on vacation in Cannes, France. "It's extremely uncool to film a dead body there and the companies that are charging people all that money did not want me to film that."
More bodies were discovered during the time that she was filming. The adventure company guides on the mountain threatened her. So did the Sherpas. Even a Nepalese government official threatened her but eventually the guides and Sherpas removed the bodies, but not before virtually everyone at Base Camp had seen one.
Whelan had thought there would be a candle light vigil or some kind of memorial for the dead, but people merely stepped over the bodies, ignoring them to focus on the difficult climb to the summit that lay ahead.
"You can't really deal with it because to confront it in that place and at that time is to psych yourself out for what you're about to do," she says. "It's when you get home that the impact of that kind of hits you."
40 Days at Base Camp, showing for one night only on Wednesday at Village 8 Cinemas, documents her stay at the Base Camp of the world's most famous mountain. The Vancouver-based filmmaker arrived as climbers were setting up, she left as they were coming off the mountain and she caught everything in between. While she never tackled the summit herself, she strapped small video cameras to four climbers, the footage from which is spliced throughout the film.
She arrived at Base Camp in April 2010. There were over 800 people paying to summit the mountain, some of who had no prior climbing experience. Nearly all of them paid adventure companies between $60,000 and $100,000 to "hand hold" them to the top. It's a far, far cry from when Edmund Hilary and Sherpa Tenzing summited Everest for the first time.
"I had a picture of those two guys in my bedroom when I was a kid, so I romanticized this place and this idea," she says. "So when I went there in 2007, I mean that myth became completely shattered for me. I get there, I see all the garbage — which I had heard about, but it's hard to understand the extent of it until you see it."
"Essentially, the world's highest mountain has become commercialized," she says.