Film sheds light on cataract project
November 27, 2006
High-altitude altruism and adventure hit the big screen Friday at the Wheeler Opera House, when former local filmmaker Michael Brown’s “Light of the Himalaya” makes its Aspen debut.The documentary, winner of 10 competition awards since its February release, chronicles a group of world-class alpinists who spent two weeks assisting doctors with the Himalayan Cataract Project in spring 2005. Then, they climbed 21,500-foot Cholatse in Nepal’s Khumbu region.The Sight to Summit expedition was the brainchild of Jordan Campbell, an Aspen-based climber and journalist, and seven-time Everest summiter Pete Athans. It brought together the climbers, the backing of The North Face, coverage by Outside magazine and, finally, the 64-minute film.”Light of the Himalaya” documents both the climb and ongoing efforts to restore vision to hundreds of Nepalese suffering from cataract blindness. Dick Jackson and Aspen Expeditions are hosting the screening, with proceeds benefiting the Himalayan Cataract Project.
“It was predictably going to be a great film because it’s such a great story,” said Campbell.For filmmaker Brown, a one-time Aspen resident who formerly worked with American Adventure Productions, it’s the people’s choice honors that the documentary has garnered – proof of a compelling story – that are most gratifying. The film juxtaposes breathtaking scenes of the Cholatse ascent with work in “eye camps,” where doctors bring cataract surgery to remote outposts, restoring eyesight literally overnight.”The climbing is beautiful and exciting, but the human story is at the eye camps,” Brown said.”It was amazing,” he added. “We were trying to tell a really good, emotional story … you really get a sense of what life is like for a blind person in Nepal.”
The blind have little role in Nepal’s subsistence culture, according to Brown. The elderly who suffer from cataract blindness can’t help in the fields, tend to livestock or watch the children. They are, in a sense, useless.”It’s amazing to see what happens when they get the surgery,” he said. “The transformation … it transcends restored eyesight. This huge other factor happens – hope returns to their face. It’s like they’re reborn.”The overall effect is enormous,” Brown said. “You see that in the film.”The Himalayan Cataract Project was founded by Dr. Geoff Tabin, now based in Salt Lake City, and Dr. Sanduk Ruit in Nepal.Tabin attributes the high incidence of cataract blindness in places like Tibet and Nepal to a multitude of factors – the intense UV sunlight at those elevations, lack of regular eye care, nutrition, genetics and hygiene.
Yet, $18 is all it costs to restore someone’s eyesight in the Himalayas, according to the project’s website, http://www.cureblindness.org.Tabin, who both performs cataract surgery and teaches native doctors to do the work, estimates 10,000 surgeries a year have been conducted in Nepal, Tibet, China, Bhutan, India, Sikkim and Pakistan since the project began in 1994. There are now plans to expand the work into Africa.Admission to Friday’s screening at the Wheeler Opera House is $12, benefiting the Himalayan Cataract Project. A 6:30 p.m. reception before the film will feature Athans, Campbell, Brown and assistant filmmaker David D’Angelo. The showing begins at 7:30. DVDs of “Light of the Himalaya,” produced by Brown’s Serac Adventure Films, will be available for $29.95, with 60 percent of the proceeds going to the project.Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.orgThe Aspen Times, Aspen, Colo.