Film Review: Sherpa tells a tragic tale

From Australian director Jennifer Peedom comes a BAFTA nominated documentary which looks at the 2014 Everest climbing season from the Sherpas’ point of view. But, my goodness, it does much more than that.

As Peedom creates her documentary, the mountain witnesses the worst tragedy in its history. A 14 million ton block of ice crashes onto the climbing route through the always treacherous Khumbu Icefall. It leaves 16 Sherpas dead.

Sherpa kinda acts as a companion piece to last year’s acclaimed movie, Everest, and deals with some difficult political and moral issues. Even before the accident, the Sherpas clearly feel resentful of these foreigners who come along to have a jolly old time on the mountain that is treated with utter reverence by locals. Indeed, a simmering tension reached boiling point the year before and led to a physical fight between Sherpas and the people they felt were disrespecting them and the mountain they call Chomolungma.

In the immediate aftermath of the 2014 tragedy, things clearly cannot go on as they have and the vastly different ways the foreigners, the Nepalese government and the Sherpas react is eye-opening. It illustrates where priorities lie. The Sherpas demand that the entire season is abandoned, they want respect for the dead and compensation for their families, the tourists want to climb the mountain so they can say they’ve done it and the government doesn’t want to do anything other than stay out of it and count their money.

It is, of course, the Sherpas that emerge with all of the dignity. The fact that they are prepared to lose an entire year’s wages shows just how important this all is to them. Meanwhile, the government is worse than useless and the tour operators and their clients (the climbers) don’t come out of this looking very good at all. The American guy who starts spouting utter shite about “terrorists” and “9/11” and talking about the Sherpas’ “owners” probably regrets opening his mouth at all. Or maybe not. He just seems like that kind of guy.

As well as being fascinating and engaging, the documentary is visually stunning. The aerial shots of the mountain are simply beautiful to the point of being breathtaking. For this reason, you should try to see Sherpa on a nice big screen. But, to be honest, big screen or not, this is certainly worth 95 minutes of your time and will act as an interesting, tragic and touching insight into the lives of Sherpas and into a conflicted industry.

Sherpa is released in Australia on March 31, 2016 (Advance screenings 25 – 28 March). For other countries, check local listings.

bobby townsend


Review by Bobby Townsend