On the couch with award-winning adventure filmmaker Michael Dillon

Michael Dillon has captured many world-first achievements
Michael Dillon has captured many world-first achievements

He has won more awards in adventure and expedition documentaries than any other individual worldwide, with his most recent accolade as the 2022 Grand Prize of the International Alliance for Mountain Film (IAMF) for his lifetime’s work in this field, which includes over a hundred mountain and adventure film projects stretching over fifty years.

A pioneer of Australian adventure cinematography and Sir Edmund Hillary’s long-term filmmaker, Michael Dillon AM, has witnessed some of the world's most historic and wildest adventures.

His notable works include making seven adventure documentaries with one of the first two people to summit Mt Everest, Sir Edmund Hillary, including the award-winning film, Beyond Everest, and conceiving and filming the never-since-repeated sea level to summit climb, Everest Sea to Summit, with mountaineering legend Tim Macartney-Snape; considered one of the greatest adventure films of all time.

Born in Sydney and now living in Victoria, his humble beginnings sparked at the age of eleven when he used coloured pencils to create stories on long strips of paper that he wound frame by frame through a cinema he built from his Meccano set.

But it was in 1969 when his life changed, filming one of the first-ever commercial treks in the Everest region and has never looked back since.

For the next 50-plus years, Michael travelled with his camera from the Himalayas to the Andes, Antarctica to Africa, and built an incredible CV that spans more than a hundred mountain and adventure film projects.

Michael represents a distinguished line of Australian accomplishments in the field of outdoor and expedition filming, dating back notably to Frank Hurley Highlights of Michael’s career include 25 years as Sir Edmund Hillary’s filmmaker Michael also has a distinguished career as a freelance cinematographer of mostly outdoor subjects

This saw Michael climbing four of the Seven Summits, crossing the Simpson Desert and tracking gorillas in war-torn jungles, to name just a few of his adventures.

US Emmy nominated, Australian Logie awardee, AFI award winner and his most recent accomplishment, being the first person in the Southern Hemisphere to win the IAMF Grand Prize in 2022.

We had a chat with the legendary expedition filmmaker who will present an exclusive Australian talk in July and August 2022, going behind the scenes of some of history's greatest adventures and explorers.

Michael Dillon Q&A

You’ve won an impressive number of awards, your latest being the IAMF Grand Prize winner for your life’s work. Can you tell us a bit about your passion for filming and how you started out in the adventure industry?

I made films out of paper strips when I was eleven, then Scouts and the Duke of Edinburgh Award made me love outdoor adventure, so I brought a real movie camera and made my first film about trekking in the Himalayas. Edmund Hillary saw it, and so much else followed from that.

Working alongside many of the world's most respected explorers, from Sir Edmund Hillary to Tim Macartney-Snape, what is it about following these adventurers’ stories that you find so appealing and what makes you keep returning for more?

To share a challenging goal is totally engrossing, whether it be accompanying Hillary, trying to jetboat and climb the whole length of the Ganges or Tim trying to climb Everest from Sea level, or a group of ordinary people daring themselves to walk the Simpson Desert for charity.

What was it like spending close to 25 years in Sir Edmund Hillary’s company?

It was a very comfortable and friendly association. Hillary, like so many Australian and New Zealand adventurers I’ve filmed, had no ego issues and I have a funny story to tell at my talk about that. I loved the way his normal expedition attire was a business shirt and shorts.

All of us who journeyed with him loved him, as I hope my film, Ocean to Sky amply shows.


Having to film in some of the harshest and remote places, how did you prepare yourself for the unpredictable conditions? What was an instance where things went completely wrong and how did you handle it?

Gear-wise, I try to take two of everything, as something normally breaks.

As for me, all I have ever broken is a collarbone from walking backwards into a grave. I was able to crawl out, as was Lincoln Hall miraculously on Everest in 2006 and Sir Edmund Hillary who almost died of altitude sickness on the 'Ocean to Sky' expedition.

Both of those days, doing everything we could as a team to help, were the most intense of my life.

What do you think are the core qualities of a successful adventure filmmaker?

You have to have an incredible work ethic. Be fit enough to cope with often carrying more than those you are filming. You have to be punctual and very organised, so you never hold anything up or irritate anyone.

You need to be happy to keep a low profile, and in terms of filmmaking skills, you have to be able to do everything, including editing, to make many projects viable.

Michael Dillon is one of Australia’s leading cinematographers and makers of adventure and expedition documentaries

Do you have a favourite destination you'd return to in a heartbeat – what makes it special to you?

In 1969, I walked up the Namche Hill for the first time and there were the Sherpa villages and the great peaks including Everest. I’d dreamt of being there since childhood and I have been back so many times since, filming Everest Expeditions, Hillary’s school building work and treks.

Capturing a world of wonder and adventure over the past 50 years, what was one of your most memorable filming experiences and why?

Walking for weeks with Tim Cope, his horses and his dog Tigon through the beautiful Carpathian Mountains of Ukraine and being there when they reached the Danube River, the end of their three-year journey.

Other times I’ve filmed with tears in my eyes include filming both of Tim Macartney-Snape's Everest climbs and actually reaching the top of other high mountains myself, such as Mt Elbrus, Mt Kilimanjaro and Mt Aconcagua.

Hear about the epic adventures captured by award-winning filmmaker Michael Dillon

What's one of your all-time favourite documentaries to watch?

The best adventure documentaries create a strong emotional bond between the viewer and the adventurer and one such is Jen Peedom’s Solo, about the ill-fated attempt of Andrew McAuley to kayak across the Tasman.

What can people expect from your upcoming talk which tours Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane in 2022?

Far more humour than they might expect, and more variety and emotion than they might expect. Being there during Lincoln Hall’s miraculous survival on Everest is one example.

I have been so fortunate to have been on so many great adventures and I just want to share them in the most engaging way that I can.

If you love a good adventure tale and plenty of laughs, don't miss Michael Dillon's special 2022 tour in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane and be inspired by never-before-seen footage, people chasing records and world-firsts. Find out more and reserve your tickets.

Australia, Adventure filmmaking, Michael Dillon, Michael Dillon Special Event, outdoor adventure documentary, on the couch

Comment (0)

Your comment will be visible after the administrator's approval.

b i u quote

Save Comment
Join Newsletter
<img src='/portals/World%20Expeditions/Icons/brands/small/ADS.jpg' class='brandPopoverIcon' alt="Adventures South"> <div class='brandPopoverBrandName'>Adventure South</div>
Adventure South NZ is unrivalled in their geographic coverage, originality and overall quality of adventures holidays in New Zealand. Choose from walking, cycling, winter or multi-activity holidays, on either the North or South Island.
<img src='/portals/World%20Expeditions/Icons/brands/small/AWH.jpg' class='brandPopoverIcon' alt="Australian Walking Holidays"> <div class='brandPopoverBrandName'>Australian Walking Holidays</div>
Australian Walking Holidays specialises in small group guided walking adventures. Since 1982 we have been guiding small groups of travellers on Australia's finest walks across our tropical, coastal or red centre landscapes.
<img src='/portals/World%20Expeditions/Icons/brands/small/GCT.jpg' class='brandPopoverIcon' alt="Great Canadian Trails"> <div class='brandPopoverBrandName'>Great Canadian Trails</div>
Great Canadian Trails specialises in active holidays in Canada. With both guided and supported self-guided options available, our unique itineraries draw upon some of Canada's most inspiring parks, trails and landscapes from coast to coast.
<img src='/portals/World%20Expeditions/Icons/brands/small/HUM.jpg' class='brandPopoverIcon' alt="Humac Challenge"> <div class='brandPopoverBrandName'>Huma Charity Challenge</div>
Huma enables those with adventurous spirits to challenge themselves and make a difference for a cause close to their heart. Travel, fundraise and meet life-long friends on one of Huma's meaningful and unique challenges around the world.
<img src='/portals/World%20Expeditions/Icons/brands/small/WB.jpg?v2' class='brandPopoverIcon' alt="Walkers’ Britain"> <div class='brandPopoverBrandName'>Walkers' Britain</div>
Walkers' Britain (formerly Sherpa Expeditions) have specialised in walking and cycling trips in the United Kingdom and Europe since 1973. Explore iconic trails and destinations on a self guided or small group active holiday with Walkers' Britain.
<img src='/portals/World%20Expeditions/Icons/brands/small/WB.jpg?v2' class='brandPopoverIcon' alt="Walkers’ Britain"> <div class='brandPopoverBrandName'>Walkers' Britain</div>
Walkers' Britain (formerly Sherpa Expeditions) have specialised in walking and cycling trips in the United Kingdom and Europe since 1973. Explore iconic trails and destinations on a self guided or small group active holiday with Walkers' Britain.
<img src='/portals/World%20Expeditions/Icons/brands/small/TAS.jpg' class='brandPopoverIcon' alt="Tasmania Expeditions"> <div class='brandPopoverBrandName'>Tasmanian Expeditions</div>
Tasmanian Expeditions is the most experienced operator of treks and adventure travel holidays in Tasmania. We own and operate the most comprehensive range of adventure holidays available across Tasmania's varied landscapes.
<img src='/portals/World%20Expeditions/Icons/brands/small/UTX-new.jpg' class='brandPopoverIcon' alt="Utracks"> <div class='brandPopoverBrandName'>UTracks</div>
UTracks are the active European holiday specialists. Whether you prefer cycling or walking, 2-star or 4-star, small groups or self guided, land, river or sea – UTracks can help you to explore Europe exactly the way you want.
<img src='/portals/World%20Expeditions/Icons/brands/small/WYA.jpg' class='brandPopoverIcon' alt="World Expeditions Schools"> <div class='brandPopoverBrandName'>World Expeditions Schools</div>
World Expeditions Schools is our specialist division dedicated to organising tailor made overseas school group adventures. Specialists in Service Learning projects, choose from more destinations than any other school group provider.
<img src='/portals/World%20Expeditions/Icons/brands/small/YOM.jpg' class='brandPopoverIcon' alt="Yomads"> <div class='brandPopoverBrandName'>Yomads</div>
Yomads offers adventures for the 20s and 30s on six continents. Designed as a way to bring young and likeminded travellers together, Yomads caters to those interested in lightly structured and active trips that allow freedom to roam and explore.
<img src='/portals/World%20Expeditions/Icons/brands/small/ACT.jpg' class='brandPopoverIcon' alt="Australian Cycle Tours"> <div class='brandPopoverBrandName'>Australian Cycle Tours</div>
Australian Cycle Tours specialises in high quality self guided and guided cycling experiences in a selection of the most beautiful regions in Australia.
<img src='/portals/World%20Expeditions/Icons/brands/small/WEX.jpg' class='brandPopoverIcon' alt="World Expeditions"> <div class='brandPopoverBrandName'>World Expeditions</div>
The pioneers of original, worldwide adventure travel holidays since 1975
<img src='/portals/World%20Expeditions/Icons/brands/small/TJX.jpg' class='brandPopoverIcon' alt="Trail Journeys"> <div class='brandPopoverBrandName'>Trail Journeys</div>
Self-guided cycling experts on New Zealand's Otago Rail Trail and more
<img src='/portals/World%20Expeditions/Icons/brands/small/BMAC.jpg' class='brandPopoverIcon' alt="Blue Mountains Adventure Company"> <div class='brandPopoverBrandName'>Blue Mountains Adventure Company</div>
The original Blue Mountains canyoning, hiking, climbing and abseiling experts
<img src='/portals/World%20Expeditions/Icons/brands/small/GWNZ.jpg' class='brandPopoverIcon' alt="Great Walks of New Zealand"> <div class='brandPopoverBrandName'>Great Walks of New Zealand</div>
Explore New Zealand's most spectacular wilderness regions with the self-guided hiking experts
<img src='/portals/World%20Expeditions/Icons/brands/small/NAA.jpg' class='brandPopoverIcon' alt="North America Active"> <div class='brandPopoverBrandName'>North America Active</div>
USA Canada hiking & cycling tour specialists, choose from self-guided or guided trips