MacGillivray Freeman Films Breaks Own Record with the Fastest Grossing Large-Format Film of All Time

LAGUNA BEACH, CA (February 1, 2000)-Marking a rare achievement in the large-format film industry, MacGillivray Freeman Films' EVEREST has surpassed the $100 million mark in ticket sales in less than two years of distribution making it the first large-format film to reach this mark in fewer than fifteen years. Since its world premiere on March 4, 1998, EVEREST has grossed $100,012,684 worldwide. With EVEREST MacGillivray Freeman Films breaks its own record as producers of the fastest grossing giant screen film. This honor was previously held by MacGillivray Freeman's 1976 film, TO FLY!, which reached the $100 million mark after fifteen years of distribution. TO FLY! is still the highest grossing documentary of all time, grossing $110 million since its release. MacGillivray Freeman's 1995 Academy Awardä-nominated film, THE LIVING SEA, is the third highest grossing large-format film at $73 million worldwide.

"It is with great pride that we announce EVEREST's rise to the top of the charts," says Greg MacGillivray, President of MacGillivray Freeman Films. "Not only does this accomplishment speak to the majesty of the film, but also to the rising popularity of the large-film format."

The 44-minute 70mm documentary, narrated by Liam Neeson, follows a 1996 Everest expedition as three climbers train and travel from Katmandu through the Himalayas and finally reaching the summit of Everest. The film was produced by Greg (more) Page 2 MacGillivray, Alec Lorimore and Stephen Judson for MacGillivray Freeman Films. Major funding was provided by the National Science Foundation.

Following in the footsteps of EVEREST's success, MacGillivray Freeman Films will release two films in the coming months including its 20th large-format film DOLPHINS in March 2000 and WILD CALIFORNIA in May 2000. Others films that are currently in various stages of production include JOURNEY INTO AMAZING CAVES, CORAL REEFS, and SPACE JOURNEY.

Launched in 1976 by Greg MacGillivray and the late Jim Freeman, Laguna Beach, California-based MacGillivray Freeman Films (MFF) has been setting the standard in large-screen filmmaking for more than two decades. In 1996 MFF's inaugural project, To Fly!, became the first IMAX format film to be selected by the Library of Congress for inclusion in America's film archives, joining such classics as Gone With the Wind, Star Wars and Citizen Kane. MFF continued its artistic and technological innovations with The Living Sea, nominated for a 1995 Academy Award™ for Best Documentary/Short Subject, and the recent blockbuster Everest, the first large-format film to gross $100 million in fewer than fifteen years at the box office.



Beyond an epic story of triumph from the summit of the world’s highest mountain, the EVEREST team returned with important samples and scientific data that help geologists to better understand the process of mountain building and the threat of earthquakes in Nepal and northern India.

Mount Everest is located in northeast Nepal and is part of the Himalayan mountain range, a spectacular feature that stretches 1,500 miles along the southern margin of Tibet, separating peninsular India from the rest of Asia.

Long ago, when dinosaurs roamed the Earth, India and Asia were on different tectonic plates, moving slowly toward each other but separated by the vast Tethys ocean. About 45-50 million years ago, the two continental masses collided, closing the Tethys ocean basin and forming the ancestral Himalaya. Although the convergence between India and Asia slowed with collision, it did not stop: geologists using satellite data have measured the rate of convergence today at nearly two centimeters per year. This movement continues to push Mt. Everest and the Himalaya skyward 3-5 millimeters each year. Today, more than 1,000 Himalayan peaks measure at least 20,000 feet.

Mountain ranges record the perpetual struggle between the plate tectonic forces that build mountains and the gravitational forces that tear them down. The dominance of one type of force over another through geologic time can be tracked by studying geologic structures like folds and faults and by direct measurement of modern earth movements using space geodetic techniques, also known as GPS or global positioning systems.

The EVEREST team assisted in both kinds of research. In conjunction with Professor Roger Bilham, a geophysicist from the University of Colorado who specializes in geodesy, the EVEREST team installed GPS ground stations for highly precise measurement of earth movements in the Everest region relative to a network of other stations in Nepal. One goal of Bilham’s research is to better understand the processes that drive seismic activity in Nepal and help assess the danger of destructive earthquakes in Nepal and northern India. In this century, four earthquakes of Richter Magnitude 8 or greater have occurred in the Himalaya. Scientists expect another similar magnitude earthquake to occur yet this century, putting millions of lives at risk.

Though not shown in the film, the EVEREST team also assisted the research of Professor Kip Hodges, a geologist from MIT who has worked for many years on the geology of the Everest region. The team collected rock samples exposed near the summit to help Hodges learn more about the geologic architecture of the Everest region. Much of the structural geology of Mt. Everest remains poorly known because the upper elevations on the massif, where many of the most interesting geologic structures occur, are so inaccessible.



As they approached the dramatic climax of their climb, the EVEREST team felt the effects of altitude more and more, and saw other teams show evidence of dangerous mountain sickness. Mt. Everest towers five and a half miles above sea level and simply staying alive there requires immense endurance and courage.

Anyone who has climbed even a moderate mountain has probably felt some altitude effects. Although air everywhere contains 21% oxygen, the atmospheric pressure decreases as altitude increases so less and less oxygen becomes available to the human body. On top of Everest (29,028 feet) the atmospheric pressure is one third that at sea level, and the climber must struggle to take in as much of the thin air as possible. Even for the well acclimatized, this is not enough and bottled oxygen only partially restores the oxygen available at sea level.

The body uses many strategies to cope with lack of oxygen (hypoxia); without them, very high altitude is rapidly fatal. The most important strategy is to take time to go high, allowing the body to adjust and the necessary acclimatization to evolve. The first and most effective change is over-breathing (hyperventilation) which brings more fresh air deep into the lungs and washes out the carbon dioxide, thus increasing the available oxygen. Unfortunately with each breath, the climber loses fluid and becomes more easily dehydrated. Drinking plenty of water is critical to a climber’s survival.

Hypoxia also causes the heart to beat faster and harder, driving more blood throughout the body to the hungry cells. The brain, which takes up only 3% of total body weight, uses 20% of the oxygen. Not surprisingly, the brain is likely to suffer when the supply is short.

The third and best-known adjustment to altitude is an increase in the number of red blood cells produced by the bone marrow, thus increasing the amount of oxygen blood can carry. Many other more subtle changes occur if enough time is allowed for acclimatization.

If too little oxygen reaches the brain, it may swell, a condition known as High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE); this has caused confusion, mistakes in judgment, hallucinations, and other serious problems which have cost lives on lower mountains as well as on Everest. Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) is a common, unpleasant condition which includes headache, nausea, sleep disturbance and easy fatigue. It is related to and occasionally can develop into HACE.

Hypoxia increases the blood pressure in the arteries supplying the lung, and if this increases too much, fluid leaks from blood into the lungs causing High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE) which can also be rapidly fatal, drowning the victim in his/her own juices.

Even with acclimatization high on Everest the climber faces other problems. Breathing so much dry cold air causes a painful dry cough - "high altitude hack" - which may be bad enough to crack a rib. Sleep is restless and broken with nightmares. Appetite disappears and climbers must force themselves to take enough calories to meet the needs of work and heat production. Frostbite and hypothermia lurk around the corner, and the exhausted climber who sits down too long to rest may not wake from the fatal sleep of hypothermia.

These are the reasons why some climbers call the thin layer of atmosphere above 25,000 feet "The Death Zone." There, exhaustion, hunger, thirst, lack of sleep, cold, even fear, all stretch the human body to its very limit.



The EVEREST team set out to climb the mountain via the classic South Col route -- the same route used by Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay in 1953. Beginning at Everest Base Camp, the route winds through the legendary Khumbu Icefall, a steep, stark glacial landscape of ever-shifting ice that tests a climber's mountaineering skill and inner mettle.

The Khumbu Icefall moves three to four feet a day -- and the constant motion can be heard as splintering cracks and heart-stopping shudders all around the climbers. Great towers of ice, some as large as small mountains themselves, can break free at any moment and crash down without warning. The Icefall is also riddled with deep, yawing crevasses that must be spanned with slippery metal ladders. Adding to the technical difficulty of the Khumbu Icefall is the knowledge that many climbers have lost their lives in this dangerous and surreal terrain.

At the top of the Icefall is Camp I. But the climbers cannot just proceed from here to the top of Everest. They must move slowly -- climbing higher each day but returning to Base Camp to sleep -- taking time to acclimatize their bodies - more - EXPEDITION - 2 to the sudden drop in life-sustaining oxygen. Moving too high too fast at these altitudes is deadly even to the fittest of athletes. So camps are established one by one, painstakingly, as the climbers strengthen the bonds of friendship, trust and confidence and come to respect the mercurial nature of the mountain.

Mountains, like weather systems and emotions, are capricious by nature. Stunning vistas, sparkling sun, joyous camaraderie and cerulean skies can give way instantly to black clouds, skin-blistering cold, survival mentality and fierce, angry blizzards. A certain equanimity must be maintained in all conditions, calling for a constancy of human spirit -- and, in the case of Araceli Segarra, lots of chocolate!

After ten grueling days on Everest, the EVEREST team had already seen many of the mountain's moods. They had established Camp I above the treacherous Khumbu Icefall, Camp II in the midst of the lonely Western Cwm (Cwm is a Welsh word meaning valley), Camp III on the icy slopes of the Lhotse Face, and Camp IV, a desolate, freezing, wind-riven patch of ground just below the South Summit. Returning one final time to Base Camp, they were now ready to begin their bold attempt on the peak.

It was a time of intense personal focus and commitment -- but when tragedy struck, the EVEREST Expedition climbers were immediately drawn out of their reverie and into action to help their fellow climbers.

On May 10, 1996, more than 23 people from four expeditions set out to summit Everest. With so many people on the mountain's steepest slopes, the ascent was slow. Too slow. As evening began to fall, climbers were still hovering - more in the aptly named "death zone," where oxygen is scarce, and freezing, screeching, 80 mph winds pose a constant danger of hypothermia. From out of nowhere, one of Everest's massive storm systems moved in, trapping climbers high on the mountain. Now the men and women on the mountain's highest reaches were blinded by darkness and whipping snow, shivering in triple-digit negative temperatures, confused and fatigued from the thin air and surrounded by a glacial wilderness of unyielding rock and ice incapable of sustaining life for long. The situation was dire. With each passing second, the climbers were losing more strength and the night was growing more savage.

The EVEREST Expedition got word of the emergency at Camp II, where they had decided to wait for a different summit day due to the high winds on May 10th. David Breashears immediately began coordinating a rescue with the ten other teams spread out on Everest. A field hospital was established at Camp II, commandeering the services of a physician from another expedition. Oxygen and other supplies stowed away for the EVEREST team at the South Col were made available to the rescue effort.

Meanwhile, the EVEREST Expedition moved up to Camp III to provide further assistance to the troubled climbers descending. Ed Viesturs was one of several people who got on the radio attempting to compel Rob Hall, an experienced New Zealand guide stuck high on the mountain with an ailing client and now succumbing to cold and lack of oxygen, to begin moving towards rescue. It was to no avail -- Hall remarkably survived a night of raging storms in 100 degrees below zero weather at some 28,700 feet but his strength was too depleted. A rescue effort was turned back by the continuing bad weather.

The rescue team again moved into high gear as Beck Weathers, a Texas pathologist who had earlier been given up for dead miraculously reached Camp IV. He was severely frostbitten and near death. With help from the rest of the team, Breashears and Viesturs guided Weathers down the difficult Lhotse Face, with Breashears taking the front and Viesturs tethering him from behind to control his descent. Five Sherpas from the EVEREST expedition also assisted frostbitten Taiwanese climber Makalu Gau in a similar fashion.

At Camp I, however, the rescue effort faced a perilous impasse: the infamous Khumbu Icefall. It was unlikely that the deteriorating Weathers and Gau would survive the rigorous technical climb through the glacier -- and such an attempt would further endanger the lives of everyone involved. Then, news came that a daring Nepalese Air Force Lieutenant had agreed to attempt an unprecedented high altitude chopper landing to ferry the injured climbers to the hospital.

One major obstacle remained: how would the helicopter find the group in extremely low visibility at 19,500 feet? Araceli Segarra, with her unrelenting sweet tooth, saved the day by pouring a huge red "X" in the snow from a liter of Kool-Aid! Once the "X" was sighted, David Breashears waved the helicopter down.

With the rescue of Beck Weathers successful, the EVEREST team finally had a chance to recuperate and take stock of the harrowing events that changed not only the expedition, but their lives. In the end, eight climbers died -- and, like all climbers who lose their lives too high on Everest for rescue, their bodies remained where they fell in the snow, both a tribute to and a stark reminder of the power of the mountain.

Saddened and exhausted, the expedition members nevertheless refused to succumb to pessimism. They replaced the 25 bottles of oxygen used during the rescue, restocked their supplies and gathered their spirits to prepare once again for the summit. Finally, the winds died down and the team made their way back up to Camp III on May 21. There, using a satellite telephone/Motorola radio link, Producer Greg MacGillivray talked with David Breashears.

"David and the team were real happy to have had a good day of climbing and were upbeat about the weather," recalls MacGillivray. "Despite the emotional heartache they all felt after losing several close friends, they drew strength from the support of their team and the good wishes from people who followed the events on the mountain from all over the world."

Adds Breashears: "Everest is a place of awesome beauty. Despite all the work, the tragedies and the setbacks, we wouldn't have continued if there wasn't also a lot of joy in it."

On Wednesday, May 22, just before midnight the EVEREST climbers sipped their last hot drinks and piled on their down suits to begin the final push towards the summit. In the best of conditions, the trek to the summit takes at least ten hours -- ten hours of constant struggle to stay moving over steep, rock-strewn ridges fighting for every breath.

ust before the summit, the climbers came to the treacherous Hillary Step, a 40 foot high thin crack named for Edmund Hillary, who was the first to ascend it. The step requires technical expertise and total concentration at a time of extreme fatigue and oxygen deprivation. But the team stayed right on schedule.

At 10:55 a.m., David Breashears and Ed Viesturs reached the very top of the world, followed shortly after by Jamling Tenzing Norgay, Araceli Segarra, cinematographer Robert Schauer and five Sherpas.

The emotions were as high as the snow-capped peak on which they stood. For each member of the team, the triumph carried intense personal meaning. For Jamling Tenzing Norgay it was a poignant moment of connecting with his father's spirit. He placed photographs of his father, his family and the Dalai Lama on the summit, as well as one of his daughter's dolls. Forty-three years earlier, Tenzing Norgay had also placed a doll there given to him by his daughter, Jamling's sister. For Ed Viesturs, the journey to the top was also an emotional reckoning, a difficult journey in the wake of losing close friends in the tragic storm just a week before. And for Araceli Segarra it was a historic moment of achievement as she became the first woman from Spain to climb Everest.

"We have performed a miracle today," said an ecstatic David Breashears from the top.



Presented by Polartec®

A MacGillivray Freeman Film

Major Funding provided by the National Science Foundation

Sponsored in part by the Everest Film Network:

Museum of Science, Boston

Denver Museum of Natural History

Fort Worth Museum of Science and History

Houston Museum of Natural Science

National Museum of Natural Science, Taiwan

Science World British Columbia, Vancouver


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