Riverside native Mitchell McIntire is willing to risk exhaustion, oxygen deprivation and vertigo to make a documentary of an expedition up Mount Kilimanjaro called “Climb Without Limits.”
McIntire and two other graduates of Chapman University’s Dodge College of Film and Media Arts in Orange will leave Friday for Tanzania to film Bonner Paddock, an Orange County man with cerebral palsy, as he and his team attempt to summit the 19,340-foot extinct volcano.
The climb is 64 miles over eight days up the highest solitary peak in the world with terrain that ranges from rainforest and savannah to glacial ice.
“For me, this is the filmmaking opportunity of a lifetime,” McIntire said.
The documentary’s director is Kent Bassett. McIntire was supervising sound editor on Bassett’s “The Line,” which won the American Society of Cinematographers’ Lazlo Kovacs Heritage Award and the Spirit Award at the Brooklyn International Film Festival. Jeff Dolen, the cinematographer, has worked on 30 short films, seven commercials and one feature. Bassett and Dolen are both 26.
“We’re definitely a young team, but we are hungry enough,” said the 22-year-old McIntire, who has been a production assistant on “Top Chef” and “Project Runway.” He is producer of the documentary, which has a budget of $30,000.
Bob Bassett, dean of the film school, said Paddock queried him on doing a documentary and he agreed, gathering together the filmmakers, faculty advisors and equipment. Bassett said it is not uncommon for alums to do projects connected to the school.
“I get a lot of requests from the community, and we can’t meet all the requests but this one made a lot of sense to me,” Bassett said.
He was impressed by Paddock and how he has set and met challenges, as well as his goals to raise funds for a disabled children’s center.
“I thought this was a great message for the community, and we always want our students involved in the community,” Bassett said.
Plus, it represents a growth he wants for the school.
“This is a little larger project, and that’s something we want to involve our students in — traveling to a foreign country and the physical challenge of climbing a mountain,” he said. “At that altitude they need special equipment.”
The school is supplying most of the photographic equipment, including batteries that operate in high altitudes.
“They spent an entire day climbing Mount Whitney, seeing what it would be like to film at high altitudes when they are fatigued. I think they’ve done their preparation, and there’s a lot of excitement about what they will encounter,” Bassett said. “It’s a good chance for three talented filmmakers to put their talents together and create something first-rate.”
The filmmakers will need to carry 35-40 pounds of gear apiece — cameras, tripods and sound equipment. All three will need to be ready to film at any time.
“There’s no script. The story unfolds as we climb,” McIntire said.
The premiere of the documentary is expected to be at Chapman University in a couple of months and then to go on festival rounds and be shopped for distribution.
“I don’t think that will be a problem. I think there will be interest right off the bat,” McIntire said.
A Good Start
McIntire was born and raised in Riverside, attending Notre Dame High School and Riverside City College, where he credits Bud Tedesco, assistant professor of film, television and video, for getting him off to a good start.
“I got a lot out of that class. The experience really rubbed off,” McIntire said.
Tedesco, who didn’t know about the Kilimanjaro documentary before being contacted for this article, was thrilled but not surprised.
“Mitch was really an outstanding student. He was really focused,” Tedesco said.
While at RCC, McIntire took extra classes, including time-consuming production courses.
“It was really superior work, beyond the average student. He could operate cameras, do editing. He could write, produce, direct. When you have strong talents you’re bound to succeed,” Tedesco said. “I wish I had a lot of ‘Mitches’ around. It makes me look good, too.”
Mitch’s mother, Linda, said he began showing an interest in film early, borrowing the family video camera.
“As long as I can remember, he’s loved movies and always said he’s going to make movies,” she said. “I’m really proud of him. I don’t know many people who know what they want to do and do it.”
Linda and her husband, Scott, a financial advisor, both are graduates of Notre Dame High, as well. They have two other children, Danny, 21, and Kari, 18.
“Who climbs Mount Kilimanjaro? We watch it on TV. I never thought I’d have anybody I know do something like this,” she said. “At first I was nervous about it, but he’s young. He’s strong. He has a passion to see this through. I think he’ll do fine.”
Paddock, 33, decided to climb Kilimanjaro as a personal challenge and to encourage disabled children to reach beyond perceived limitations.
“That mountain has all my biggest weaknesses, all my fears,” said Paddock, senior manager of corporate partnerships for the Honda Center and the Anaheim Ducks.
During birth, oxygen was cut off to Paddock’s brain, destroying the part that controls equilibrium. One of his legs is weaker than the other and he walks with a limp. He must look at vertical objects to create visual balance and keep from falling.
So imagine knowing that and climbing up Kilimanjaro. The final ascent will start in the dark to allow enough time to get back down.
“That day would start at 2 a.m. so it’s going to be pitch-black. We would have a head lamp, but it will be limited visuals,” he said.
To prepare, he’s climbed Mount Baldy and did high-altitude training in Telluride, Colo. He and teammates climbed 14,494-foot Mount Whitney, starting in morning darkness.
“That was the most brutal. We did it in one day, 22 miles. My legs have never been really strong so it was a great challenge,” Paddock said. “I really believe that you have to make up your mind you are going to complete something and you have to believe it.”
Only 40 percent of those who attempt to reach the summit of Kilimanjaro are able to do so. Some become disoriented by the reduced oxygen. Sometimes top athletes fail while ordinary hikers make it.
“Anybody can do it if you have the right mindset, and I’m hoping I can do that,” Paddock said. “I believe in the team. We’ve got a really, interesting, dynamic team. The key to it is we all have to work together to get to the top or else we don’t stand a chance.”
Except for the filmmakers whose travel expenses are paid, the rest of the 10-person team is paying about $10,000 each to go. Sponsors have donated gear, everything from tropical rainwear to sub-zero clothing.
Paddock is attempting to raise $250,000 for an Early Care and Education Center for disabled children, connected to United Cerebral Palsy of Orange County. As of Wednesday, $185,800 has been raised, from donations that range from the National Hockey League to children with lemonade stands.
“This is the heaviest buzz, right before we are leaving on the trip, but with the documentary, we can make it timeless and the thing is to get people to start recognizing people with disabilities,” Paddock said.
He had to adjust to being filmed on his training climbs.
“It’s hilarious. It’s like a beehive. You’ve got one person running around all these other people. They’ve got to run up hill, huffing and puffing. One guy has a big boom,” he said. “These guys are working really hard.”
‘Climb Without Limits’
Trek: Climb 64 miles up 19,340-foot Mount Kilimanjaro in eight days
Goal: To raise $250,000 for an Early Care and Education Center for children with disabilities
Film: Documentary of Bonner Paddock’s effort to achieve a personal goal and inspire others with disabilities