VENICE (Reuters) - Icelandic director Baltasar Kormakur has made many small-budget movies in his home country, but he says he did not feel out of his depth making the star-studded mountain disaster movie "Everest" that opened the Venice Film Festival on Wednesday.
"You know, it's a big cast on a big mountain. But, in the end, they were all ready for what was in store for them," Kormakur told Reuters following the press screening of his film about a 1996 expedition to the world's highest mountain that left five climbers, including two team leaders, dead.
The film stars Jake Gyllenhaal as American Scott Fischer and Jason Clarke as New Zealander Rob Hall -- rival team leaders who both perished when a violent thunderstorm struck Everest in early May while their teams were near the summit.
Also starring are Josh Brolin, Keira Knightley and Emily Watson.
Kormakur said that making the film made him understand why people tackle Everest, which has claimed the lives of some one in seven people making the attempt over the decades.
"I actually kind of was drawn to the mountain the closer I got to it, I have to admit that," he told a press conference.
"I do understand people who actually do this, either for passion or for work. I think in some ways you get the most real version of yourself, you can get to the core of who you are and there is something existential...to figure out who you are in nature and how you function in nature."
Kormakur, who spent years preparing for filming that took place on Everest as well as for alpine shots in the Dolomites and studio work, said some of the actors had gotten sick while shooting in the comparatively high altitudes.
"There were endless moments of peril or dangerous moments but we didn't put anyone foolishly into danger," he said.
He added that one of the most moving moments for him came when he visited Hall's widow Jan in New Zealand and heard the tapes of the conversations she'd had with her husband, relayed by telephone and radio from the expedition's base camp, shortly before he froze to death near the summit.
"I went there and actually listened to the tapes from the real events of the movie -- when it was happening, the phone call between the two of them, with the wife, who hadn't listened to it for 18 years," Kormakur said.
"Very, very intense moment. It was great."
Additional reporting by Duarte Guarrido; Editing by Mark Heinrich