Produced and written by Mirza Ali and directed by Jawad Sharif under Bi-Polar Productions and Karakoram Expeditions, Beyond The Heights is based on the mountainous adventures of mountaineer Samina Baig, who became the first and youngest Pakistani woman to reach the peak of Mount Everest. She is also the youngest Muslim woman to climb the Everest at the age of 21 years.
In an email interview with Dawn.com, the film's writer and producer Mirza Ali Baig, the brother of Samina, talks about the obstacles faced by him during the making of the documentary, his inspiration and expectations from the project and his views on mountain climbing.
Inspired by Samina's perilous journey
“The purpose of documenting all mountain expeditions with Samina was to show the brave face of Pakistani women, their high potential and energy," he says, adding that he wishes to encourage gender equality and women empowerment.
"I have used the metaphor of mountain climbing to motivate youth to climb their mountains [face the hurdles] with respect to their own work.”
He also wishes for young people to develop an interest in outdoor sports.
Challenges of shooting in the chill
With the shooting set in mountainous areas of the brutally cold Himalayas, Mirza Ali says he faced many challenges.
“The most difficult times I faced were during the climb of Everest with Samina. It was extremely cold and I had to make sure that the camera was working; the battery was warm enough, all the while focusing on each step because one mistake can cost you your life. Carrying the heavy equipment at a height of 8,000m and shooting the climb during most risky areas of Mount Everest is itself very difficult," he says.
|Samina Baig (L) and Mirza Ali Baig (R) pose with the Pakistani flag at Mount Everest.|
Some portions were shot in his village in Hunza Valley.
“80% of the real shooting was done during our expedition on Mt. Everest. Some shots were done in our village with Jawad and the rest were taken from the previous expedition to Spantik Peak expedition. However, the most challenging part was to raise funds for the Mount Everest adventure. It took me seven years to raise funds to embark on the highest peak on its 60th anniversary. Jawad initially didn’t believe that I would make the film during the climb of Everest but I had promised him. Thanks to Allah I was able to make on it during its 60th anniversary.”
He says people are unaware about the geography of Pakistan and most wrongly associate Giglgit-Baltistan with other parts of the Northern areas. "Gilgit-Baltistan and especially Hunza have a 98% literacy rate. We don’t have gender discrimination as seen in other parts of the country and boys and girls, both pursue their studies and professions without any difference.”
Determined women and their dreams
Samina Baig's powerful words from the the trailer stay with viewers. “If a girl can climb a mountain, she can do anything,” she says, reminding us all that determined women are capable of doing the most perilous tasks.
|Samina Baig and her brother Mirza Ali raise the Pakistani flag on top of Mt Elbrus, the highest mountain in Europe|
Mirza Ali heartily agrees and believes that it is a message for all Pakistani men.
“I encouraged my sister and she successfully climbed the seven highest mountains in the world. Not only that, she also has the honour to become the first Pakistani and Muslim woman to reach the peaks. They must also encourage women in their respective interests so they can contribute to the society. It is not necessary that all women climb mountains but they must overcome the mountains present in their own lives.”
He strongly believes that his documentary will help in changing the stereotypical image of Pakistani women.
“I wanted to give a strong message to the world that Pakistani women are not oppressed the way it is projected, they are very capable in all the fields of work and can even climb mountains, the highest ones in the seven continents.”
Risk equals success
It is a general perception that extreme sports like mountain climbing can be life threatening and irresponsible. Mirza Ali, however, has contrary views. He considers risk to be the second name of success.
He elucidates his point, “If you don’t take calculated risks you will never succeed in life. Mountains are undeniably dangerous but all you need to do is some serious planning and observation of the conditions.”
“Financial issues, harsh weather, upholding cultural and religious values and yet becoming the youngest Muslim woman to reach the top of the world — all this will have a great impact on the audience.”
He is also pleased that the trailers have resonated with international distributors and invitations to screen the film at some festivals as well. However, he is still waiting for a Pakistani body to do the same.
When asked if he thinks his film can bag an Oscar like Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy’s Saving Face, he humbly replies that he is looking forward to win the hearts of Pakistanis, especially women.
“I think it highly deserves the highest award because it shows the brave face of Pakistani women surpassing all challenges.”