In 1965, Jim Whittaker – the first American to climb Mt. Everest – led Senator Robert Kennedy to the first ascent of a remote mountain in the Yukon named after the late president, John F. Kennedy. Fifty years later, the sons of the original climbing team—a raucous band manager, a candidate for governor, and a young mountaineer—embark on an expedition to the mountain to celebrate the special bond that connects them all. That is the summary of the feature presentation, “Return to Mount Kennedy,” that premiered at the 5th annual Wasatch Mountain Film Festival in Park City on the 1st of April.
For an overcast Monday evening in a sleepy Park City neighborhood, the event had a better than expected turn-out. The support from the local outdoors community was prevalent as most of the seats in the Jim Santy Auditorium were filled with young adults with goggle tans and Patagonia puffys. The event lasted a total of about three hours. A colleague and I arrived to the auditorium five minutes prior to its commencement. We signed up for the raffle that was to be held and conversed at the bar about a local whiskey blend from a Park City distillery that was marketing its product with drink vouchers purchased at the entry to the auditorium. The event kicked off at 7 p.m. sharp as my colleague and I took our seats. Immediately, teenagers in blue event t-shirts commenced the raffle for an assortment of Yeti and REI products ranging from water bottles, bags, and the grand prize of a large Yeti cooler. After the raffle, the lights shut off and the projector lit up to show the first of the two movie premiers that were the 5th annual Wasatch Mountain Film Festival.
The first was a six-minute mountain bike film that had a playful tone and was skillfully edited. Distant and high speed drone shots that followed a professional mountain biker as he bulleted down the trail at neck-break speeds gave this film its pop and overall appeal. But the film felt like more of an advertisement than an independent showcase of one’s own artwork. A quick six minutes passed by followed with an applause. Now we were presented with Eric Becker: an early thirties aged man with a large ego that was the director of “Return to Mount Kennedy.” He got up in front of the audience, cracked a couple jokes, and introduced his film before the lights shut off once again and the showing began.
The film itself was touching and informative and is subject to many different reviews and opinion. It was the Q-and-A session that was of the most interest to my colleague and I who were determined to catch a glimpse of the world of independent film directing. Eric Becker is an Emmy Award winning director based out of Portland who jokes and loves to talk about himself. He is confident and was not reluctant to answer the questions thrown at him during the Q-and-A session after his film.
“What was the project’s genesis, or what inspired you to make the film?” a middle-aged man with dark flowing hair asked the director. Becker went forward to tell us that Bob Whitaker, a key character in the film, approached him after watching the premier of his previous film, asking him to direct a film that he himself would produce. Becker said that he was initially wary and somewhat creeped out by the man, but also told us that “Bob is just a man who needs a movie to be filmed after him.” Becker stayed in Whitaker’s cabin in Eastern Washington after having invited him to spend a weekend in the mountains. Becker told us that he agreed to film Bob’s movie after getting drunk with him in the woods.
Another woman who was genuinely curious in the subject asked Becker what the editing process was like for the film. Becker said that it was grueling and miserable. He joked by saying, “I would like to thank whiskey and cold brew.” He explained to us that over a thousand hours of editing work was put into the film by just him and a handful of other individuals.
A few more questions were asked about the overall process of production as well as some questions about the story’s plot. Becker thanked the audience again and we all calmly dispersed into the mountain night from which we came.