If you ask me what one of my favourite genres of film, documentaries would definitely up there as one of my personal favs. One of the reasons why I love them is that no matter which subject they tackle (whether it’s something that’s either interesting, bizarre or even mundane), they always manage to explore them in a way that’s both insightful and fascinating to me as viewer. Especially if it’s one that focuses on a real life event that I wasn’t familiar with. One film in particular that did just that is the Australian made documentary SHERPA. So what is the film about? Read on and find out!
The film gives us an inside look into the tragic events that happened in April 2014 when 16 Sherpas were tragically killed by an avalanche while climbing up Mount Everest (which was proclaimed as the worst tragedy that has ever happened there). As the aftermath of this tragedy unfolds, it becomes the final straw in a long line of incidents for the Sherpas as they stage a protest against their climbing companies for better safety conditions and as well as out of respect for those who’ve died. We follow these events through many different points of view from those who were there when all this happened. The main focus being on a Sherpa named Phurba Tashi, a family man who works as an experienced guide on Everest, and his boss New Zealander Russell Brice, who runs one of the Everest’s main expedition companies.
I must admit I actually wasn’t really aware of this tragic event in 2014 until I heard about it late last year when I was researching to the Jake Gyllenhaal/Josh Brolin fact-based disaster drama EVEREST (which gets a slight reference in the doco since it was shooting on Everest at the exact same time this tragedy took place). So when heard that this documentary would go give us an in-depth look into what happened, it definitely peaked my interest into checking it out. But to my surprise, the film did more than that. Not only did it delve into what happened, it explored both the complex political and social ramifications of how this event affected everyone involved from the Sherpas to the climbing expedition teams to the Nepalese government. This was an absolutely terrific documentary that I found to be truly riveting from beginning to end. Aussie director Jennifer Peedom and her crew did a truly terrific job showing us even-handed account of this tragedy and sits aftermath without it ever feeling biased in any way. Especially since Peedom and her crew actually went there at first just to make a doco about the Sherpas during climbing season but in a twist of fate while they were shooting, the avalanche happened and it set their film off into a completely different direction than what they were originally intended. All of this just made the film even more fascinating to me as a viewer.
One aspect that I found to quite compelling was having the film’s main focus of the film be the Sherpas themselves. I must admit that I knew very little about the Sherpas, so I loved that filmmakers explored both their every day lives, culture, history (particularly on Tenzing Norgay, who was the famous Sherpa who helped Edmund Hillary become the first people to reach the top of Everest) and as well as their spiritual connection to Everest itself (which they call ‘Chomolungma’). We look into their family lives as well, particularly one of our subjects Phurba Tashi and his family. Even though Tashi is a skilled mountain climber who has scaled Everest many times, his family feels that he needs to give it up because of how dangerous the risks are (especially in light of how the Avalanche devastated their village into later on in the film). However Tashi tells us that like many of the men in his community, he has to do it ’cause it’s the only way that he’s able to provide for his family. Tashi, his family and their community really get us emotionally invested with them and we can understand how they feel that both the climbing companies/government don’t give them the recognition that they deserve. Plus we also get to spend a lot of time with Tashi’s boss Russell Rice too as he basically becomes the peacemaker between the different groups. We see the pressures as he faces when trying to help solve the situation and as well as to dealing with his frustrated clients. While most of them are quite sympathetic and understand why the Sherpas are protesting, there are some who just come across as entitled idiots. One American client in particularly actually even calls them ‘terrorists’ at one point after hearing that a small group of them have been threatening violence towards the other Sherpas who want to still work during the protest. On the technical side the cinematography was truly breathtaking (it’s one of the visually stunning documentaries I’ve seen in a long time and one of the main reasons why it needs to be seen on the big screen) and the score by Anthony Partos was very haunting.
Overall SHERPA is a really great documentary that I found to be emotional, intense, insightful, fascinating and truly engaging. If you’re a big fan of docos or anything that’s about Mount Everest in particular, I highly recommend you to check it out. Believe me, you won’t be disappointed.
Review written by Bede Jermyn