Wednesday, 30 March 2016


Transmission Films

Did you see last year's real-life disaster film Everest? Other than Jake Gyllenhaal, Josh Brolin, Jason Clarke and a New Zealand-accented Keira Knightley, do you recall any of the actors playing the Sherpas? The mountain guides assisting the Westerners mounting the summit of the world's largest mountain. Or the names of any of the Sherpa characters? No, me neither.

For whatever reason -- plot economics; conscious or unconscious erasure of 'the other'-- the Sherpas' story wasn't deemed important enough to the narrative being told, even if, truth be told, no narrative about Western climbers on Everest -- from Edmund Hillary onwards -- would have been possible without them.

Jennifer Peedom's documentary, Sherpa, seeks to redress this imbalance; telling the story of the villagers -- and one man in particular, Phurba -- who risk life and limb every year to escort hundreds of Westerners to the top of the world (and for a fraction of the money which the Nepalese government makes from the very lucrative tourist trade).

These men know that with each climb they may not return to their families, but they also know that one or two good climbs a season will provide enough money to see them through the year.

The Sherpa are a dignified and peaceful people, but in 2013, some of them retaliated violently towards their Western employers when they were verbally disrespected. Since then, tensions between the Sherpas and the climbers have been frosty, and when a disaster of great magnitude strikes on the mountain the following year (the year that Peedom fortuitously decided to follow their story), not-so old and decades old resentments -- bubbling away since 1953, when Tenzing Norgay lead Hillary to the top and was all but forgotten for his efforts -- resurface.

Peedom's film is an examination of a little-known culture; a clash of cultures between the Sherpa and Western entitlement; and between the old Sherpa and the young. It also looks at the necessary evil of economics which makes for not-so-happy campers.

Beautifully shot (cinematographers Hugh Miller, Renan Ozturk and Ken Sauls shot more than 400 hours of film), Sherpa presents both sides of the Sherpa-Westerner relationship, although you'll be hard-pressed to come out of the screening feeling any kind of sympathy for the tourists.

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