Robert Kennedy and Jim Whittaker, atop Mt. Kennedy in 1965 (Courtesy Photo).

Robert Kennedy and Jim Whittaker, atop Mt. Kennedy in 1965 (Courtesy Photo).

Mountaineering movie shows bridge between generations

“Return to Mt. Kennedy” will have a screening at 8 p.m. Friday, Sept. 27, at Vashon Theatre.

“Return to Mt. Kennedy,” a new film about two epic and historic treks to the top of a remote mountain in the Yukon, will be screened at 8 p.m. Friday, Sept. 27, at Vashon Theatre.

The editor of the film, Andrew Franks, grew up on Vashon where he first discovered his passion for film.

“I picked up my parents’ video camera when I was about 10 years old, and my friends and I just started making films together,” Franks said. “It was a hobby that naturally found me and I quickly fell in love with.”

Franks will attend the screening, along with Bobby Whittaker, a leading subject of the film, and lead a Q-and-A after the film.

The film tells the historic story of the ascent in 1965, by Northwest mountaineering icon Jim Whittaker and Sen. Robert Kennedy, of Mt. Kennedy, a remote peak in the Yukon named for John F. Kennedy, after his death. The pair made the first ascent of the mountain soon after JFK’s death. Thanks to Jim Whittaker’s guidance, Bobby Kennedy was the first human to stand atop the lonely peak.

Originally a shy kid from West Seattle, Whittiker had been thrust into the international spotlight when he became the first American to summit Mt. Everest in 1963. Just a few years after his adventure with Bobby Kennedy in the Yukon, he would be at Bobby’s bedside as he was taken off life support after being shot during his own presidential campaign.

The film then fast-forwards 50 years, to a time when Jim Whittaker’s 48-year-old son Bobby pledged to revisit the site of his father’s historic climb. As the manager of a rowdy Seattle grunge band, the younger Whittaker spent his career in the trenches of the rock business, most recently working as R.E.M.’s road manager. Rejecting the world of hardcore Alpinism he associated with his father, he had lost touch with his family. In an effort to make sense of his heritage and reconnect with his family, Bobby Whittaker — then faded and out of shape — decided to do something he hadn’t done since he was 17: Climb a mountain.

For the climb, he enlisted the help of his younger half-brother, Leif Whittaker, and also invited Christopher Kennedy, 52, the son of RFK and Ethel Kennedy. Chris, a businessman and politician in Illinois, accepted the invitation as a way to honor his father and family, despite his inexperience as a mountain climber.

Together, the raucous band manager, the candidate for governor, and a young mountaineer embarked on an expedition to celebrate the special bond that connected them all. And like their father before them, the trio brought out the best in each other.

Featuring unreleased instrumentals by Eddie Vedder, as well as other songs by R.E.M., Mudhoney, Mogwali and other bands, as well as never-before-seen footage and photos of Robert Kennedy, the feature-length documentary sits at the intersection of politics, human rights, environmentalism and adventure.

Tickets to the film can be purchased in advance at vashontheatre.com.


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