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BFI to restore 1924 "The Epic of Everest" film

A ceremony will take place to honour the mountaineering pioneers

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The BFI National Archive have announced plans for a complete restoration of a legendary film of Everest exploration, The Epic of Everest (1924) featuring ill-fated climbers George Mallory and Andrew Irvine, who died on the expedition. The BFI is appealing for support to undertake this delicate and time-consuming work using the earliest known prints to make a definitive restoration.

Also this week on Everest a ceremony will take place to honour the mountaineering pioneers. At the first Winter Olympics in 1924, medals were awarded to the British members of the 1922 expedition, one of those significant gold medals is being taken up the mountain by mountaineer Kenton Cool as a memorial. This is particularly appropriate in the year when London is hosting the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. And next year will be the 60th anniversary of the first known group to get to the summit when news of Edmund Hilary and Sherpa Tensing's success was broken to the world on the eve of the Coronation.

The Epic of Everest is the official film record of the 3rd attempt to climb Mt. Everest and controversy still rages over the question of whether Mallory and Irvine actually reached the summit.

The film was shot by Captain John Noel, a heroic, pioneering explorer who had reconnoitred the mountain in disguise while on leave from his Indian regiment, as early as 1913. The BFI has negotiated to acquire worldwide rights in all media for the film with Captain John Noel's daughter, Sandra Noel, and intends to release the film in Autumn 2013 marking the centenary of his last foray into Tibet before World War One.

In 1919, in the course of a paper to the Royal Geographical Society, Noel made the first public suggestion that Mount Everest should be climbed, a challenge taken up in 1920 when members of the Royal Geographical Society and the Alpine Club of Great Britain formed the Mount Everest Committee.

The first reconnaissance trip was undertaken in 1921 and no moving images are known to exist. The 2nd Everest expedition took place in 1922 and Captain John Noel took the first ever film of the mountain, which is also the first ever film shot in Tibet. For the 3rd Everest expedition in 1924 Noel bought the rights to all still photography and moving image material and was himself the official cameraman. The tragic end to the expedition - when Mallory and Irvine disappeared - continues to be the subject of debate and remains an enduring mystery.

Noel took detailed guide notes on the colours of the scenes in his still photography while using a glass plate camera to take more than 800 plates. The accurate tinting of the still images (see example above) offers an intriguing opportunity with the potential to allow authentic tinting of the film.

Captain John Noel (who died in 1989, a year before his hundredth birthday) wrote to the BFI National Archive (then NFTVA) in 1984 to suggest just such a project: "The picture film and colour stills needed to be edited with a lot of technical treatment into a finished story film all in colour... with music recorded - so that the finished film would be worthy of being a classic story of British Pioneer Exploration and so be truly worthy of a place in the National Archives... I would welcome this destiny for my picture... a sort of maximum attainment in my life"

The BFI is working closely with Sandra Noel to undertake the restoration and have commissioned an appropriately atmospheric soundtrack from composer Simon Fisher Turner.

Sandra Noel said, "This is a fitting tribute to my father and his pioneering spirit. It is also a commemoration of those stoic men who ventured into an icy wilderness to challenge Chomo-lung-ma, Goddess Mother of the World. I am delighted, and I know that the result will vividly tell the story of man's battle against the elements."

Composer Simon Fisher Turner said, "It's a real privilege to be asked to work on such a stunning and historic film. The archaeology of sound and vision has become my greatest passion."

The BFI National Archive's restoration of The Great White Silence (1922) dir. Herbert Ponting continues to delight audiences with its moving portrayal of Captain Scott's final expedition to the South Pole, and a great new score by Simon Fisher Turner. Captain John Noel knew and admired Ponting's work and consulted him on camera equipment.


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