Sherpa

Directed by Jennifer Peedom and Renan Ozturk

In 2013, the world's media reported on a shocking mountain-high brawl as European climbers fled a mob of angry Sherpas. Director Jennifer Peedom and her team set out to uncover the cause of this altercation, intending to film the 2014 climbing season from the Sherpa's point-of-view. Instead, they captured Everest's greatest tragedy, when a huge block of ice crashed down onto the climbing route...

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  • ★★★★ review by Michael Scott on Letterboxd

    Baltasar Kormákur's big screen blockbuster Everest opens in Australia soon. It's a costly production that boasts an expensive cast but still looks to have enough money left over to back them up with a worthy spectacle. I've got nil interest in seeing it. Not after Sherpa.

    Watching white men climb the world's highest peak loses its attraction (what little attraction was left after Cliffhanger) knowing the background workings of the bucket-list fulfilment industry that has developed on the mountain and the local people whose backs that industry has been built on.

    To be fair, I don't want to undermine the survivilist horror the men and women that inspired that film went through, but It would be hard to take any of the characters seriously having come face to face with the calibre of human Jennifer Peedom's documentary has introduced me to. To be blunt, many of whom should be thinking about crawling through the obstacle course of their own entitlement before they even consider tackling the mountain. It is a cheaper form of personal development.

    You've probably gathered by now that Sherpa is a film divided between the haves and the have-a-hell-of-a-lot-more-than-they-know-what-to-do-withs, between those who rely on the mountain climbing industry for their livelihoods and those who rely on them to to set up their camps, to cook their food, serve them meals and, most importantly (and most dangerously) to cart their gear from camp to camp so they can get to the summit in as much comfort and with as little effort as feasible.

    Peedom's film began as a celebration of the Sherpa people, a project kickstarted by a 2013 mountain-top standoff that saw 100 of the east Nepalese mountaineers stand up to disrespectful foreign climbers. That flashpoint may have drawn Peedom to the mountain but it also augured the events that would come to form the central battle of her film, a Sherpa-led rally for respect and improved working conditions following a tragic event on the mountain.

    At Base Camp, Brit journo, Ed Douglas, gives an exceptionally frank assessment of situation to hand. It's a forthright dialogue that would grate but for its exceptional insight and Douglas' ability to place the Sherpa's demand in an historical context, He convincingly draws a line from Base Camp 2014 back to Edmund Hillary's world renowned ascent fifty years ago and the long-since-faded recognition of his Sherpa companion, Tenzing Norgay. As Douglas puts it, this tour-halting standoff, which threatens the very future of packaged climbs on the mountain, is the culmination of five long decades of struggle on the part of the Sherpa.

    That is not a difficult line to swallow. Sherpa is a perfectly contained high altitude economic microcosm - rich white people happily leaning on friendly brown folk, oblivious to their exploitative actions until their rarefied position is challenged. Nobody, it seems, likes an uppity Sherpa. Not when thousands of dollars worth of climbing brags have been purchased.

    In the snow-white glare of the situation, the Western climbers don't hold back. Peedom captures their resigned privilege with numbing bemusement. The striking Sherpa, still mourning for their friends and family, are labelled selfish terrorists. One climber in an effort to get the situation diffused (so he can get on with his Sherpa-facilitated climb) even goes so far as to ask: "Who are these people, can't you go talk to their owners?"

    That pretty much sums up the film. An undervalued people doing as a matter of routine the thing that others, more valued, pay top dollar for. The economy of this industry needs to be kept afloat, for the tour operators, for the nation of Nepal (the government's response is particularly telling) and nobody wants to admit to the exploitation that underpins the system. Masterfully, Peerdom has, on the slopes of Everest, eloquently encapsulated the economic world at large: Pass the buck. Wash your hands. Plead ignorance. Find some way to keep doing what you've always done.

    Do it with thrilling Chomolungma vistas in the background.

    Sherpa is must see. It is history on film. Another cinematic step towards a global social tipping point.

  • ★★★½ review by Simon Di Berardino on Letterboxd

    Sherpa; or the affirmation of the entitlement of Westerners with money.

  • ★★★★½ review by Chris Hormann on Letterboxd

    When you think of the Sherpa (certainly as a New Zealander), you think of smiling faces and the picture of Hillary with Tenzing Norgay after their ascent of Everest. Since then, they have been initmately involved with any expeditions going to the top of the great mountain - but in common with many other cultures, they have slowly but surely found themseves exploited by the West and the god of commerce.

    This documentary shows this in sharp relief and with incredible effectiveness. We see both the beauty of the Himalayas but also the ugliness of an increasingly demanding Western tourism market who want to tick climbing the mountain off their "bucket lists" but with often little regard to the sacrifice and risks taken by the Sherpas to help them achieve this. Even seemingly friendly tour operators show their teeth when it comes to carrying on with expeditions in the shadow of great loss of life. The Nepalese government is certainly not blameless in this as they pursue the mighty tourist dollar.

    This documentary has the ability to be great agent of change in how we see Everest and how we need to appreciate more than our petty goals to the detriment of a proud and great people.

  • ★★★★ review by Thomas Williams on Letterboxd

    There were three vastly different and notable films released in 2015 about the human experience conquering and/or colliding with Mother Earth and her elemental friends high in the Himalayas on the northern edges of the Indian subcontinent.

    The one with the most fanfare was a feature film named Everest that had an extensive cast of white people playing wealthy citizens of the world with nothing better to do than climb Mount Everest for $100K a head. The film is based on a true story of human folly (think Titanic minus a doomed romance, the ocean and a sinking ship) during a tragic ascent in 1996 in which a freak -- surprise, un-forecast --blizzard struck the climbers near the summit's peak. While some of the f/x are fantastic in Everest the film has little genuine emotion as it becomes spread too thin among the sprawling cast that included Jason Clarke (Zero Dark Thirty), Josh Brolin (W.), John Hawkes (Winter's Bone), Jake Gyllenhaal (Nightcrawler), Sam Worthington (Avatar), Keira Knightley (Pride & Prejudice), Emily Watson (Gosford Park), Martin Henderson (The Ring), Michael Kelly (Changeling), Robin Wright (Forrest Gump), and Elizabeth Debicki (The Man from U.N.C.L.E.).

    The second film was an award-winning documentary that made it onto the Academy's shortlist but it did not end up earning one of the Academy's five nominations. This was the thrilling, adventure doc called Meru that chronicled a trio of men's numerous attempts -- through various remarkable hardships -- to scale the mountain's one remaining untouched peak ... a highly coveted prize many daredevils have dreamed of achieving. The individual stories of each of these men are actually more rewarding than the elusive summit itself. Meru is pretty impressive.

    Saying ALL of that, the BEST mountain movie of 2015 is the most simple: Sherpa. Sherpa tells the humble story of the remarkable men -- called sherpa -- who make the climbs of the wealthy elites of the world possible as they move items from one camp to the next trudging up and down the mountainside week after week carrying their weight on their backs and risking their lives daily as those men who have paid for the experience of "climbing" the mountain could not do so without the help of these Nepali townspeople who make next-to-nothing for their hardwork during a season. Sherpa isn't a spectacle film as it is more about human beings, nature, and the disrespect the powerful players with money believe they are entitled to hold towards the sherpa, nature and the mountain herself. Local custom has always believed Mother Earth speaks to them via the mountain and as disrespect grows the mountain becomes alive again to dispel those she believes no longer belongs.

    The destructive earthquake in Nepal a couple of years ago was the culmination of the mother's anger.

    Sherpa is the continuing story of the world and every point it makes is a valid one.

  • ★★★½ review by Peter Valerio on Letterboxd

    After an avalanche on Mt. Everest kills 16 sherpa, the sherpa refuse to climb. Quite reasonable, since they take a disproportionately higher risk than the foreign tour guides and earn a disproportionally lower payment. Can one afford to strike when one's family depends on tourist income?

    A civics lesson about privilege and the lengths to which desperate people need to go to survive.

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