Local filmmaker climbs to new heights

Last year, Ottawa filmmaker Elia Saikaly climbed up 29,000 feet of Mt. Everest – video camera in hand.

The journey was a tribute to his mentor, University of Ottawa professor Sean Egan, who died trying to summit the mountain in 2005. Saikaly sold all his possessions, raised $70,000, and trained for months in order to produce a documentary about the experience.

His film, Finding Life, premiered Thursday at the Montreal World Film Festival, earning a standing ovation from the crowd.

Saikaly brought his story to Ottawa-Carleton's Adult High School Monday, where he was asked to address students as part of the school's character development program.

"The trick is to listen, because all the answers are truly inside of us," Saikaly told a packed auditorium, as he described his own path of personal discovery.

A self-proclaimed "lost kid," the 29-year-old has seen success as a model, actor, musician, bodybuilder, and videographer. At 17, he set a world record in deadlifting. At 20, he was a finalist in MuchMusic's VJ competition.

The graduate of Algonquin's Television Broadcasting program has since started his own video production company and travels worldwide, creating his own films. He was hired by Egan in 2005 to help produce footage of what became the ill-fated climb.

 "His whole philosophy was about doing, and being, and living in the moment," Saikaly said about his mentor, repeating Egan's mantra: "Always aim high."

In his memory, a volunteer group called "Ad Astra" – "Aim High" – has helped raise over $150,000 to build a children's school in Kathmandu, Nepal.

"Sometimes life works out in ways that we don't want to understand," Saikaly said. "But when you really look at the beauty of it, you realize that maybe that's the way it was meant to be."

Finding Life will debut in Ottawa on Nov. 21.