High Ground

High Ground

Nico Maroulis taking care of her firearms as seen in HIGH GROUND, a film directed by Michael Brown, produced by Don Hahn and Michael Brown.

High Ground (2012)

Opened: 11/02/2012 Limited

Quad Cinema/NYC11/02/2012 - 11/08/20127 days
Los Angeles11/02/2012 - 11/08/20127 days
Columbus, OH11/02/2012 - 11/08/20127 days
Golden, CO11/02/2012 - 11/08/20127 days

Trailer: Click for trailer

Websites: Home, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube

Genre: Documentary

Rated: Unrated

11 Wounded Warriors, Climbing Home From War

"Both an action movie and a moving true story of triumph over the most towering odds." -- Seattle International Film Festival


Emmy Award winning director Michael Brown, who filmed blind adventurer Erik Weihenmayer's historic ascent of Everest a decade earlier, joins a group of eleven Veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and a team of Everest Summiteers, lead by Weihenmayer, on an emotional and gripping expedition to climb the 20,000 foot Himalayan giant, Mount Lobuche. Woven into their training and their ascent are the individual stories of these men and women and the lives that their combat, and now this mountain, tested. Their courage, their insights, their determination are magnified by the fact that each is a wounded warrior, some living with Traumatic Brain Injury and Post-traumatic Stress, others having lost a limb, or sight, or their emotional compass. Like a soldier who leads his troupes to the high ground for tactical advantage, these warriors elevate all of us who, thanks to Brown's exhilarating film, witness their bravery, determination, and inner strength.

The Making of High Ground

In October 2010, ten years after blind adventurer Erik Weihenmayer made his historic ascent of Everest, the same team of mountain guides who assisted Erik reunited to lead a group of warriors on a climb that was all about shattering barriers and misperceptions. With the help of World T.E.A.M. Sports, a veterans support organization, they created an expedition to Nepal for 11 combat veterans suffering from physical and emotional injuries sustained during service in Iraq and Afghanistan. These soldiers, representing all four branches of the military, set out to climb the 20,075 peak of Lobuche East, just 8.7 miles from Mount Everest. The expedition, known as "Soldiers to the Summit" proved yet again that returning vets can overcome any challenge.

Emmy® winning director Michael Brown, who filmed Weihenmayer's historic summit ten years earlier, joined the group to film this daunting climb. What followed was a year of interviews and editing that revealed the true story of the soldiers' difficult road to recovery as they faced a return to civilian life.

After days of trekking in Nepal's Khumbu Valley, the climbing route started from Lobuche High Camp with steep rock, and transitioned to snow and ice for the final 2,000 feet. To ensure they summited in the best conditions, the team started climbing shortly after midnight and on October 14, 2010, the team reached the summit of Lobuche. The physical and emotional issues of war proved too much for some of the team. However, in an astonishing finish, some of the most challenged soldiers summoned incredible courage to reach the summit. The resulting story and footage was an unimaginable climax to the top.

Brown and Cinematographer Rex Pemberton (both Everest summiters) climbed alongside the team. The most promising graduates from Brown's Outside Adventure Film School made up the remainder of the film crew. Digital SLRs including the Canon EOS 7D were used for their lightweight portability and image quality. Each cameraperson also carried digital field recorders and flip cameras to capture the drama on the climb.

Cold and altitude were the two environmental factors that presented the biggest challenges. Filmmakers charged batteries at teahouses along the trek, which was an expensive process that required cash only payments in Nepalese currency to pay for electricity.

Having had experience on previous expeditions for the IMAX films Return to Everest, and The Alps, director Brown and his crew understood that fascinating story lines often formulate from base camp. Over 75 hours of footage returned to the editing room in Boulder, Colorado where editor Scott McElroy began assembling bits of story. In early 2011, Brown and producer Don Hahn met for non-stop days to assemble the storyline.

"Over those two days, we established the structure of the film and the journey of the climbers from their homes in America to the exotic and dangerous slopes of the Himalaya," said Michael. "The concept that emerged was to reveal the characters in the film like peeling back layers of an onion," added Don. "By the time they reached base camp on Lobuche, we would understand their plight as returning vets, and then watch their healing process as they set out to summit."

Composer Chris Bacon joined the project in the summer of 2011. His scores for films like Source Code inspired Don and Michael to ask him to join the project. "We wanted the music to underline the journey, and asked Chris to start with very conventional American guitars and instrumentation," said Don, "and then as the journey progressed, let the music become more exotic and spiritual to reflect the inward journey of the soldiers."

"Sometimes in the process of composing for a film I see the individual scenes so many times that writing the music can become a technical exercise, with the repetition numbing a film's emotional effect on me," shared Chris Bacon. "Upon viewing the finished version of HIGH GROUND, however, I was stunned at its emotional impact, and the tremendous pride I felt towards the men and women featured in the film and what they have sacrificed and accomplished."

By Thanksgiving of that year, New York director and editor Ryan Fenson-Hood had come on board to do a fine cut of the film and Oscar® winning sound designer Gary Rizzo (The Incredibles, Inception) joined the crew.

About the Filmmakers

Michael Brown (Director)

As a world-class mountaineer, Michael has summited Mount Everest five times. A three-time Emmy® award-winning filmmaker, Michael has made over fifty expeditions to all seven continents, all with cameras rolling. He has made a habit of going to the world's harshest, most dangerous environments -- the South Pole, the North Face of the Eiger, and 1,500 feet underground in Choreadoro cave -- and always returns with footage and stories. Outside Magazine describes the cerebral filmmaker as a "swashbuckling librarian," and Men's Journal calls him "a master of gut-dropping action." As founder of the Outside Adventure Film School, Michael practices another of his favorite pursuits: teaching.

Don Hahn (Producer)

Don Hahn produced "The Lion King" and the classic "Beauty and the Beast," the first animated film to be nominated for a Best Picture Oscar®. Hahn also served as associate producer of "Who Framed Roger Rabbit." His other credits include "The Hunchback of Notre Dame," the Disneynature films "Earth," "Oceans," and "African Cats" and the Oscar®-nominated animated short "The Little Matchgirl." He recently directed the documentaries "Waking Sleeping Beauty" and "Hand Held." He is currently executive producer of Tim Burton's stop-motion animated film "Frankenweenie," scheduled for release in 2012.

Chris Bacon (Composer)

Chris Bacon burst onto the film-scoring scene with his full throttled score for Duncan Jones's hit thriller Source Code. Having cut his teeth as a protege--orchestrating, co-composing, and writing additional music--of James Newton Howard (on films like Gnomeo and Juliet and King Kong), Bacon made his solo debut with the score for Angels Fall and hasn't looked back. He gave animated accompaniments to Space Chimps and Alpha and Omega. Chris grew up in Utah playing piano and saxophone, and studied composition in college. He moved to Los Angeles to attend USC's film scoring program, which resulted in his apprenticeship with Howard.

Featured Veterans (military rank as of December 2011)

Specialist Steve Baskis, Army -- Glen Ellyn, IL

Corporal Chad Butrick, Army -- Arvada, CO

Specialist Ashley Crandall, Army National Guard -- Glen Burnie, MD

Captain Aaron "Ike" Isaacson, Army National Guard -- Topeka, KS and Yerevan, Armenia

Staff Sergeant Chad Jukes, Army -- Ridgway, CO

Master-At-Arms 2nd Class Nicolette "Nico" Maroulis, Navy -- Austin, TX

Staff Sergeant Cody Miranda, Marine Corps -- Lorton, VA

Sergeant Justin Moore, Army National Guard -- Modesto, CA

Sergeant First Class Matt Nyman, Army -- Denver, CO

Staff Sergeant Katherine "Rizzo" Ragazzino, Marine Corps -- San Diego, CA

Sergeant Dan Sidles, Marine Corps --Boulder, CO

Lona Parten, Gold and Blue Star Mother, 1st Lt. Tyler E. Parten, ARMY-- Jonesboro, AR