Posted on: 18 December 2015 by Laurence Green

Sherpa is a majestic-looking documentary charting the disproportionate share of risks allocated to the Himalayan mountain guides on Everest. By Laurence Green.


An urgent, morally complex but deeply humane account of the darker side of mountaineering is provided by Australian filmmaker Jennifer Peedom in her gripping docmentary Sherpa (released nationwide on December 8 2015) which won the Grierson Award for Best Documentary at the 2015 BFI London Film Festival.

An ethnic group living in the Himalayas, Sherpas are expert mountaineers and an inherent part of the Everest climbing industry as guides, climbing supporters or porters, though their safety is often of little concern to the tourist climbers or the Nepalese government.

In 1953 New Zealander Edmund Hilary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay had reached the summit of Everest - the world's highest mountain - in a spirit of spirit of co-operation and brave optimism. But in 2013 news channels reported an ugly brawl at 121,000 ft as European climbers fled a mob of angry Sherpas, with climbers and Sherpas trading insults - even blows. What had happened to the happy, smiling Sherpas and their dedication in getting foreigners to the top of the mountain they hold so sacred.

Determined to explore what was going on, the film makers set out to make a film of the 2014 climbing season, from the Sherpa's point of view, entering the story of veteran guide Phurba Tashi a would-be protagonist on the precipice of breaking the world record for the number of times Everest's summit has been reached in one year. Little did they expect to arrive a few days before one of the mountains deadliest avalanches occurred in which sixteen Sherpas died. It was the worst tragedy in the history of Everest.

This disaster, though marked a turning-point in the Sherpa's dispute over better employment conditions for a multi-million dollar industry that has long boosted the Nepalese government with a cash bonanza, and provoked a drastic reappraisal about the role of the Sherpas in the Everest industry. We see how in the face of fierce opposition the Sherpas united in grief and anger to reclaim the mountain they call Chomolungma.

Peedom succeeds in sensitively capturing the raw and conflicting emotions of the mourning Sherpas as well as the disappointed tourists and tour organisers trying to protect their interests.

This indeed is a majestic looking documentary, shot in one of the world's most breathtakingly beautiful regions by accomplished cinematographer Renan Ozturk, a climber and specialist in high altitude photography, with the icy-blue environment providing an awe-inspiring backdrop to the human conflict taking place in its midst. 

In all then, a richly textured work which gives a powerful voice to people who for too long have been forgotten after being allocated a disproportionate share of the risks involved in climbing Everest's treacherous slopes and a disproportionate share of the reward.



In cinemas nationwide from 8 December 2015

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