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Carstensz - The Seventh Summit

DirectorPavol Barabás
Producer K2 Studio
Reviewed byEd Douglas
DateThursday, 14 January 2010
Rating 3 out of 5


Recent history hasn't been kind to Papua, the Indonesian province on the island of New Guinea. Frustration among indigenous people at oppresive Indonesian rule spilled over into violence in the late 1990s, closing access to Puncak Jaya, the highest mountain in the continent of Australia. Not surprisingly, those living near the peak cast a jaundiced eye over western mountaineers turning up to go climbing, even if they are spreading some money around.

That cynicism makes itself apparent in this film, as soon as the seven-man expedition is clear of anything that resembles civilisation. The deeper into the jungle they get, and the more committed they become, the nastier their hired porters become, demanding more money and waving around their machetes when it isn't shortcoming. This puts a dampener on things, along with the tropical downpours. As it turns out, they needn't have put themselves through this, for reasons that only become apparent later in the film.

Most adventure films dwell on the physical dangers or the huge effort required. Most are reverential about the local people they encounter. This one explores the psychological pressures of being in a harsh environment – harsh to Westerners, anyway – surrounded by people who clearly don't like you. It's edgy stuff, if not that enjoyable to watch. Throw in some nasty, suppurating wounds inflicted by the flora and a whole panoply of illnesses, and most people will be crossing an ascent of Carstensz off their to-do list after watching this.

To their credit, the expedition, while clearly gripped that they're about to offed by their recalcitrant porters, remain respectful towards them, and keep their hostility in perspective. Still, they're glad to see the back of them when they reach a rain-soaked base camp. Although it did occur to me to wonder how on earth they were going to get home again.

As it turns out, the answer to that question is quite a shock. I'd read that there is a huge copper open-cast mine near Puncak Jaya, the most profitable in the world, but I hadn't realised just how close it is to the wild beauty of the Puncak Jaya, literally just down the valley. Shorn of their crew, the Slovaks simply walk down valley into this nightmarish world and take a cable car back down to the valley with mineworkers knocking off for the day.

The landscape they move through is apocalyptic, a vast, dirty, polluted hole crawling with humanity, none of it local No wonder the Slovak's porters were testy. The mine is called Grasberg and it's owned by the US minerals extraction company Freeport. Security is notoriously tight, so one assumes the conversation between the climbers and the mine's management was rather testy. The footage they bring back of this terrible place is quite staggering, and makes the movie a must-see. You're left with the impression they could have walked in this way, and the assumption that all those ticking off the seven summits do the same. Some list.

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