“I’d never share a rope with him” is about as damning a comment as anyone can make about a fellow mountaineer. Sir Edmund Hillary’s words about Earle Riddiford in his last autobiography set the uneasy tone of this nuanced documentary by Earle’s son Richard Riddiford.
Screened as part of NZIFF 2020
Before Everest is having its World Premiere in cinema at The Bridgeway in Auckland, on Friday 31 July at 6.30PM. See here for details & tickets.
This film is screening in select cinemas and venues across the country. See here for details.
In 1951, climber Earle Riddiford organised New Zealand’s first Himalayan expedition, inviting an Auckland beekeeper by the name of Ed Hillary along. The successful ascent of Mukut Parbat (7,242 metres) opened the pathway to Everest for Hillary, a debt our national hero never fully acknowledged.
Upset and confused by Hillary’s comment, Earle’s daughter Anna Riddiford was driven to find answers, and to better understand her difficult father, on a journey spanning 15 years. Brother Richard’s reluctance to engage forms part of the film, as they confront the highest stakes in mountaineering history. “What do you do when the man on the $5 note disparages your father?”
Using interviews with Riddiford’s climbing companions, archival audio and photographs, modern footage of the Southern Alps and a trek through the Indian Himalayas, Before Everest explores the determination of a man who catapulted New Zealanders to Everest. Anecdotes from Hillary writer Tom Scott also lend further clues to the nature of Sir Ed’s relationship with Riddiford and his peers.
Beyond its appreciation of mountains and climbing, the film’s discovery of truths makes for a compelling and ultimately uplifting journey through one family’s history. — Shaun Barnett
About the Filmmaker
Richard Riddiford is a director and producer based in Auckland. His documentaries span finance, politics, history and the arts, notably The Temptation of Rossano Fan, which premiered at NZIFF in 2011. He has also directed the feature films Arriving Tuesday (1986) and Zilch! (1989).