Jennifer Peedom’s Sherpa is worthy of praise for maintaining it’s focus when it could have easily been lost in the majestic and overwhelming beauty of Mount Everest. The team behind this documentary explore the increasingly strained relationship between the international climbing community and the Sherpas who make such climbs possible, effectively capturing the anxiety that is always present when people attempt to traverse the world’s highest mountain.
Naturally, the documentary isn’t lacking for visual aesthetic when the need arises, with high-altitude cinematographer Renan Ozturk managing some truly breathtaking shots of the sun bending off of the ice, and silent ariel shots of the mountain, cut in with footage of the dangers that face climbers such as the fluid ice-flow of the infamous Khumbu Icefall, the most dangerous area of Mount Everest.
Sherpa begins by briefly looking at the family of experienced guide Phurba Tashi Sherpa, delicately approaching the mood at home whenever a Sherpa is called out to help climbers up the mountain. It is their main source of income, as disproportionate as their pay is, but it’s also a big source of uncertainty for everyone. Despite Phurba’s expertise, his family never know what will happen up there and ideally would like him to stop climbing. It’s a worry shared by Phurba and the rest of the Sherpa community. Peedom approaches this sense of fear with reverence; you never feel like the documentary is being too intrusive where sensitivity is a concern.
There is a lot of useful, brief information cut into the stray shots of the mountain, providing a deeper context around the climbing season and the political unrest on one side of the mountain which forces climbers to take the more dangerous routes.
Throughout the course of filming this documentary 2014 became the deadliest year in the mountain’s history up until then, centered around the tragic avalanche which killed 16 Sherpas last year. The resulting tension between the Sherpa community, their employers, and the foreigners which pay such high fees to scale the mountain then becomes the central concern here; Peedom captures it respectfully and from a distance. Footage taken by actual Sherpas of the more physical confrontations between the community and climbers is used, adding authenticity without the physical presence of the crew.
Never really taking focus off exploring risk from the perspective of the Sherpa community and weighing up the costs (salary) and benefits (safety) of discontinuing their long, loyal, and selfishly expected service, while admirably avoiding demonising companies and climbers, Peedom’s documentary is an insightful and impactful one. There are small frustrations like the white subtitles blending into the snowy visuals, but they hardly take away from the experience of an insider look at this often under-appreciated community.
Review Score: FOUR AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Running time: 96 minutes
Sherpa was first screened yesterday at the Sydney Film Festival and will be screened again tomorrow, Tuesday 9th June at 4:15pm. More information can be found HERE