Good reason to stay home tomorrow: “Storm Over Everest” on PBS’s FrontLine, airing Tuesday night from 9-11PM on PBS. Here’s why: the film, created by veteran mountaineer and filmmaker David Breashears, and producer David Fanning, is riveting and timely. May marks Everest’s annual climbing period, and though it’s been 12 years since the deadly 1996 season (which claimed 15 lives, 8 on a single day), interest in the peak and its yearly life-and-death dramas never seems to wane, despite the increasing triviality and hype surrounding some expeditions and the fabled debauchery of Base Camp. On the contrary: last year, 500 people attained the 29,035′ summit, an astonishing total given that only around 2,000 had previously managed the feat since 1953.
This season has been drastically different. The Chinese government recently closed the Tibet side of the mountain to climbers for an Olympic Torch-touchdown mission to the summit, broadcasting the successful climb on TV. With ongoing protests worldwide over the Olympics, three significant new books on the ill-fated 2006 season (including HIGH CRIMES, by Michael Kodas, and DARK SUMMIT, by Nick Heil), and now the Breashears film (which not only departs from Jon Krakauer’s take in crucial ways but also recreates scenes from the disaster with certain survivors portraying themselves, and presents moving interviews with physician Beck Weathers, twice left for dead on the peak ), it’s a ripe moment to look at the peak’s enduring grip on the Western imagination–and in the media.