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By Merle Bertrand | June 3, 2007

It’s one of the first lessons we learn as toddlers: Reach out and touch the flame on a stove, realize it burns, and never touch it again. Evidently, Gary Guller has forgotten this maxim. Guller, you see, developed a questionable sense of judgment that made him feel as if leaving perfectly flat ground and climbing mountains might be a healthy leisurely pursuit. Then, when gravity inevitably won a round, costing Guller an arm in the fall and the ensuing three days spent freezing on a mountainside, the stubborn mountaineer decided to climb Mt. Everest.

Guller came up short in that effort, but salvaged a larger sense of purpose in the process. Kidding about the idea at first, he decided to form and lead the largest expedition of disabled trekkers on a seemingly impossible quest to reach Mount Everest Base Camp…and from there Guller would make another bid for Everest’s tip and the top of the world.

“Team Everest: A Himalayan Journey” is one of those almost-too-heartwarming-for-its-own-good documentaries…and it’s too bad that there aren’t more films like it out there in these troubled times. Director Andy Cockrum does a superb job of introducing us to a remarkable posse of memorable mountaineers; paraplegics and quadriplegics, folks with artificial limbs, fibromyalgia, hip dysphasia, deafness, and more, but all sharing the burning desire to achieve the remarkable.

Cockrum also allows us to meet the unsung heroes of this or any climb: the Nepali support team and Sherpas who have taken on a bit more than they realized when they signed up for this exhibition.

Like the trails the expedition traverses in its 21 day climb to 17,500 feet, “Team Everest…” meanders a bit in the middle. There’s not a tremendous sense of narrative here; no “rising” drama (sorry) even as some of the trekkers withdraw from the expedition. But that’s fine, as this is one of those films in which the people in the story are more important than the story itself. Which is why the inspiring display of the trekkers’ hearts combined with the inevitable spectacular photography – it IS Mt. Everest, after all! – make “Team Everest…” a must-see film for our cynical times.

Though not a particularly good film for those couch potatoes with guilty consciences, this serene and compelling ode to the human spirit is more uplifting than the peak of Mt. Everest itself.

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