A new documentary addresses allegations leveled by the television news magazine 60-Minutes and acclaimed author Jon Krakauer against philanthropist Greg Mortenson. Husband and wife filmmakers Jennifer Jordan and Jeff Rhoads of Skyline Ventures Productions announced Friday their plans to create a new project that explores the controversial fall from grace of the once beloved founder of the Central Asia Institute and the subject of the international best-selling book Three Cups of Tea.
A scathing exposé first broadcast on national TV in 2011 accused Mortenson of lying about the events that led him to establish a successful non-profit organization dedicated to creating schools for the education of children, girls in particular, in Afghanistan and Pakistan. In his story Three Cups of Deceit, published in the online magazine Byliner, Krakauer alleged that Mortenson contrived his sympathetic story of wandering into the Balti village of Korphe, lost and exhausted after a failed attempt to climb K2, the second highest mountain in the world. The writer accused Mortenson of making up the circumstances that motivated the grateful climber to return and build a school to repay the kindness he received from these native people. And as a result of this false narrative, according to Krakauer as reported on 60-Minutes, the Central Asia Institute bilked millions of dollars from donors around the world who supported its mission of creating peace through education.
The TV story immediately enveloped Mortenson and the Institute in a scandal from which they have yet to fully recover. Donations to the group ceased almost instantly and its founder was stripped of all administrative responsibilities. But Jordan, a friend of Mortenson and a journalist who had visited the schools in Pakistan, couldn’t reconcile her understanding of the person she knew with the villain portrayed on television.
“When I watched the 60-Minutes broadcast, it didn’t match my experience of the man or what I had witnessed on the ground, so Jeff and I decided to launch our own investigation to see what had happened,” Jordan said in a press release. “What we have found is that this is a story worth telling – one of the world’s most successful education philanthropists is taken down in 20 minutes by one of the world’s most powerful news organizations.”
The new film 3000 Cups of Tea aims to answer some of the questions that remain for Jordan in the reporting of Mortenson’s story by 60-Minutes and Krakauer. Having returned to Pakistan to visit the schools and interview witnesses she wants to see for herself and fully understand the evidence behind their accusations of wrongdoing . Titled after the Mortenson book that encourages a calm and rational approach to building relationships in one of the most hostile places on the planet devastated by decades of war, 3000 Cups of Tea suggests that there is more behind this fascinating story that’s worth exploring.