PHOTO BY SHAH ZAMAN BALOCH

They are thin from malnutrition and rubbed raw from a lifetime of hard living. They wear sandals instead of hiking boots, eat porridge instead of PowerBars, and wear thin layers of clothes instead of high-performance fleece. They are the porters of Pakistan and they carry on their backs the dreams of nearly every climber who attempts to summit what many believe is the most technically challenging peak on the planet. Yet, they are untrained, uneducated and trapped in a cycle of poverty and servitude from which most have little hope of ever breaking free. It’s an unjust situation that goes largely unseen by the majority of the world, and one that acclaimed filmmaker Iara Lee is bringing attention to with her new documentary, “The Invisible Footmen of K2.”

The film was shot 60 years after Italians Lino Lacedelli and Achille Compagnoni made the first successful summit of K2. Amir Mehdi, the Pakistani porter who carried their oxygen tanks and made the summit possible, suffered severe frostbite and lost all his toes from sleeping without shelter above 8,100 meters. In the six decades since that expedition, most of the world has changed dramatically. But the life of the Pakistani porters, and the conditions they are forced to endure, are much the same today as they were for Mehdi.

Lee is hoping to help change that.

“All the filmmaking I do is for activism. This is an issue people need to be aware of,” Lee said. “I want to open people’s hearts and minds so they can see what’s happening. I want them to care about the people behind the scenes who are doing so much of the work and receiving so little in return.”

Lee acknowledges that there are no easy answers and that everyone involved—especially the porters themselves—needs to play a role in coming up with a solution, but she’s hoping that by raising awareness of the problem and allowing people to truly see these men who have been invisible for far too long, the slow process of change will finally begin for the Pakistani porters.

“I really think this film will capture people’s hearts because it’s a beautiful story of strength and perseverance,” she said. “These guys are superhuman, and once you see inside their lives, it’s really hard not to care.”

The power to bring about change. That’s the power of great films.

That’s the power of this film.

—Christopher Cogley

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