“What should you do when the man on the $5 note disparages your father?”
A less obvious option is to make a 92-minute documentary film.
This, however, is what Richard Riddiford, director of Before Everest, chose to do.
The film will screen as part of the New Zealand International Film Festival.
Sir Edmund Hillary commented in his autobiography that he would “never share a rope with” Earle Riddiford, and that nobody liked him.
His opening words set out the mystery to be solved in the film: “What had my father done to deserve this?”
The film delves into the backstory of Sir Edmund’s legendary conquest of Mt Everest in 1953. Earle Riddiford organised a Himalayan expedition in 1951.
Sir Edmund, George Lowe and Edmund Cotter completed the team.
The 1951 waterfront dispute had made it difficult to even leave the country and it was Mr Riddiford who had insisted they go when the others wanted to call it off, getting their equipment on the last ship out.
“Earle was the leader of the team,” Mr Cotter recalls in the doco.
Mr Riddiford and Mr Cotter summited the Himalayan mountain Murkut Parbat on the expedition, while the other two turned back.
This achievement led to an invitation for two people to join the nearby British reconnaissance expedition to Mt Everest.
There seems to have been fighting about who would go: in the end Sir Edmund and Mr Riddiford went.
The reconnaissance expedition led to to the 1953 expedition in which Sir Edmund made history.
The documentary is not a hit piece against Sir Ed.
About the worst thing he is called is a rough diamond.
Plenty of interviews are spliced into footage of Anna Riddiford talking to the camera over a span of nearly 20 years.
Hillary historian Tom Scott recounts that in his own experience “Ed was not an overly gracious man when it came to acknowledging others’ contributions.”
Riddiford also comes in for criticism.
Anna Riddiford cryptically says that her father had the opposite of tall poppy syndrome.
The mystery that grips the first part of the film is never quite resolved. It seems their is no real answer beyond a clash of towering egos amid the towering mountains.
Nonetheless, it is a fascinating look at a piece of mountaineering history and is well worth a watch.