The Lowe-Anker family stands at the basecamp of Shishapangma memorial site for Alex Lowe and David Bridges.

Support Local Journalism


Terry Cunningham remembers hearing Max Lowe play an Ashokan farewell at Alex Lowe’s memorial service in 1999. At that time, he knew young Max would lead a complicated life.

Cunningham was new to Bozeman back in 1999, the year when Max’s father, a world-renowned mountaineer, died in an avalanche on Mount Shishapangma in Tibet. Though he hadn’t ever met Alex, Cunningham decided to go to his public memorial service in Bozeman.

As he listened to the tune of loss and longing on Max’s violin, all Cunningham wanted to do was hug the boy and tell him everything would be alright.

“This 11-year-old boy showing bravery and showing vulnerability— it brought a tear to my eye and to everyone who heard it,” said Cunningham, Bozeman’s deputy mayor, on Monday night. “But I didn’t know him, and I could not tell him that. And I cannot tell him now that everything will be alright.”

Two decades after the tragedy, Max’s first feature-length documentary “Torn” explores the Lowe-Anker family’s story of risk, love and loss through the eyes of a director who lived and continues to live it.

Bozeman’s screening of “Torn” was held at the Emerson Center for the Arts and Culture on Monday night.

Max directed and co-produced the film, and Michael Harte wrote and edited it. Chris Murphy, Jonathan Chinn and Simon Chinn also produced the documentary. Carolyn Berstein, Ryan Harrington and Bengt Anderson were executive producers.

Max said other members of his family are subjects of the film, but his perspective both as director and as Alex’s eldest son is also baked into the story.

“Allowing the audience to see into my experience in making the film — it’s really an exercise in breaking the fourth wall,” he said.

The filming process began in 2016, when Max, his mother Jennifer Lowe-Anker, his stepfather Conrad Anker, and brothers Isaac Lowe-Anker and Sam Lowe traveled to the Himalayas to recover Alex’s body from a receding glacier.

Two climbers spotted the bodies of Alex and cameraman David Bridges on a slope that year, 17 years after the avalanche took their lives. Footage of the recovery was captured, and it holds its place in the documentary along with interviews, archival footage and home videos.

In the year after his trip to Tibet, Max did preliminary interviews with members of his family and pitched the idea of a documentary around. He landed with National Geographic, and the film’s first cut was finished right around when the pandemic hit in March 2020. It premiered in 2021.

It was difficult for Max to wait another year to release the film, but that gave him and his family time to distance themselves from it and process what it meant, he said.

“As much as our lives have been in the spotlight and in the public eye for much of our lives, this is still difficult to share,” Max said. “It’s emotional every time I watch the film and share it with an audience.”

Producer Chris Murphy said that at the start of the filming process, he didn’t know what to expect. But after shooting interviews with members of the Lowe-Anker family, he realized a really powerful story was there.

“When you make a documentary film, you want to be objective. You want to have neutrality,” he said. “That rule was out the window, because you have to be compassionate and empathetic and understand that this is not a story that you are unearthing. It was already out there, and they were being vulnerable and were willing to share it with you.”

Max said that curiosity about who his father was beyond a climbing legend and a desire to unpack the trauma of Alex’s death drove him to make the film.

“My hope is that, coming out of the film, people will see that the love they have is a lot more than they might think,” he said. “If you’re lucky enough to have love of any form, you should hold the people you love a little bit closer and tell them that you love them a little bit more often.”

Conrad Anker, a renowned climber and Alex’s best friend, attempted the route up the north side of Mount Shishapangma with Alex and Bridges in 1999. He narrowly escaped the deadly avalanche, and the film highlights his struggle with survivor’s guilt.

While Anker did not attend the Bozeman premiere, he shared a video message from Antarctica with the audience. He thanked Max for creating the film and thanked the people in Bozeman for watching it.

After the tragedy, Anker went on to marry Alex’s widow Jennifer, and he helped to raise her three young sons.

“I don’t know if we would have been able to move through this as we did without the community that we had here in Bozeman,” Max said. “This screening is special because we’ll be sharing that story with the community that’s held us.”

Max said countless people have helped him in the wake of Alex’s death, including his mom Jennifer and the National Geographic team.

“Risk is an inherent part of life, and we’re all going to lose someone at some point in our lives,” he said. “It’ll be hard, but it’ll be alright. If we’re able to acknowledge that trauma and talk about it, you might be able to move on from it a little bit more whole.”

Support Local Journalism

To see what else is happening in Gallatin County subscribe to the online paper.

Helena Dore can be reached at hdore@dailychronicle.com or at 582-2628.

Support quality local journalism. Become a subscriber.

Subscribers get full, survey-free access to the Bozeman Daily Chronicle's award-winning coverage both on our website and in our e-edition, a digital replica of the print edition.