When Sir Edmund Hillary was struck by a life-threatening illness during his Ganges River jet boat adventure, a small group of people filmmakers stopped work immediately. There was no footage of the two and a half day race to save his life. But now the remastered Ocean to Sky features interviews with people involved in the life-or-death situation. The emotionally-charged film also sheds light on how special the trip was to Sir Ed, who was dealing with deep personal loss at the time. David Haxton met one of those involved in the original and remastered film.
Forty-two years ago Waka Attewell was a young cameraman working on Ocean to Sky , an award-winning film about Sir Edmund Hillary's jet boat journey up India's holy Ganges River.
Now the film, in the Hillary Centenary Year, has been remastered as well as intermingled with recent interviews of survivors from the inspiring yet risky adventure.
And cinematographer Waka, from Ōtaki, has played an important part in the refresh, called Hillary: Ocean to Sky , taking on an associate producer role as well as a strong on-screen presence.
The new film also features personal accounts, never aired before, of the race to save Sir Ed's life from a rapidly developing illness.
The 1977 epic journey, Sir Ed's last major expedition, was also a healing journey for the mountaineering legend and his 22-year-old son Peter as they came to terms with the loss of Ed's beloved wife Louise and daughter Belinda who had died two years earlier in an air crash.
Sir Ed, young Peter, and a team of friends powered over 2400km through the heart of India aboard three of New Zealand's iconic HamiltonJet boats.
They navigated the river's tiger-infested delta, crossed its vast fertile flood plains, struggled up gorges guarded by fearsome rapids towards its sacred origins among the peaks of the Himalaya.
But when they neared the Ganges' snowy source, the first man to climb the world's highest mountain succumbed to altitude sickness and was rushed down in a desperate race to save his life.
A few years ago Ocean to Sky cinematographer/director Michael Dillon, who lives in Australia, got in touch with Waka with an idea.
Dream of international premiere coming true for Māoriland filmmakers
Life changing gift of spa pool: more than a luxury item
Four national awards: 'The highest honour we could receive'
"He said 'how about we retell the story of what wasn't told?'
"Because back in 1977 you go on these expeditions and you make the film that is expected.
"There's an interesting bit in the retelling of Ocean to Sky which deals with the real human being behind the myth of Ed Hillary, the man on the $5 note, and him dealing with his own grief and depression.
"We witnessed an incredible spiritual journey that Ed went on.
"We started off hooning jet boats up the Ganges and then within weeks all of us were on this different place and we even started referring to the river as Ganga."
The remastering was done at Sir Peter Jackson's Park Road Post Production facility in Miramar as well as the Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision, Thorndon, Wellington.
The result, including the addition of interviews from Dr Mike Gill, Dr Jim Wilson, Sir Graeme Dingle, Murray Jones, Peter Hillary, Mohan Kohli, Mike Hamilton [grandson of jet boat inventor Bill Hamilton], Prem Vaidya as well as Waka and Michael, is a heart-warming film.
"It's an incredibly emotional film," Waka said. "Basically Ed nearly died. It turned into a two and a half day rescue.
"But not a foot of film was shot during that two and half days because there was only seven of us left on the mountain with Ed, who fell into a coma.
"So the account [in the new film] of the two and a half days of rescuing Ed is absolutely vibrant and is extraordinary cinema.
"And there was no collective group thinking because none of us had got together before we did the interviews.
"So the interviews were done completely separately so it's everyone's raw memory of what actually was happening."
Late last year Waka showed a colleague a cut of the film and asked what he thought.
"He said he was absolutely blown away seeing the human side of Ed Hillary.
"It really is looking at the man behind the myth."
And the first-time audience was deeply moved at the premiere, hosted by the Himalayan Trust at Hoyts, Sylvia Park, Auckland.
"Watching people, who had no expectation, and seeing the power of it, was quite amazing."