SHERPA - TROUBLE ON EVEREST
The filmmakers set out to make a film of the 2014 Everest climbing season, from the Sherpas' point of view. Instead, they captured a tragedy that would change Everest forever: at 6:45am on 18th April, 2014, a 14 million ton block of ice crashed down onto the climbing route through the Khumbu Icefall, killing 16 Sherpas. It was the worst tragedy in the history of Everest. The disaster provoked a drastic reappraisal about the role of the Sherpas in the Everest industry. In the face of fierce opposition, the Sherpas united in grief and anger to reclaim the mountain they call Chomolungma.
Review by Louise Keller:
A wonderfully different perspective of Everest and the Sherpa, who have long been integral to the conquering of the world's highest peak, Jennifer Peedom's documentary explores many fascinating issues, although I couldn't help but think the filmmakers have tried a little too hard to tell their story. My criticism lies in the fact that Peedom has included every potential controversy instead of concentrating on the key elements of the story she is telling - namely the integral role of the Sherpa and the 360 million dollar tourist industry it enables. Nonetheless, there is a great sense of place and magnificent cinematography that allows us to share the experience of being there, amid the ice treachery and unpredictability of Mother Nature.
The film begins by introducing us to Phurba Tashi, a Sherpa who loves to climb more than he loves his family. This revelation is made by the mountain guide's wife, who fears for his life every time he climbs Chomolungma or mother god of earth, which is what the Sherpa people call Everest. There is a reverence around the mountain and rituals, blessings and traditions are part of the routine every time a climb takes place. Phurba Tashi has already made 21 ascents to the summit; if he succeeds during this latest climb, he will create a new record.
From the world of the Sherpa, we enter the world of Russell Brice, a straight-talking the tour operator who offers inspired mountain climbing tourists the opportunity to fulfil their dream of climbing to the summit. It is the tour operator who employs the Sherpa, who in turn set up camps and carry equipment for the tourists. We see first hand the unpredictable, perilous icefall between Camp 1 and Camp 2 and the risks involved.
An altercation in April 2013 in which a tourist calls a Sherpa by an expletive is blown up out of proportion, but the point is well made that there is a growing feeling of unrest among the Sherpas. Better conditions, better pay, better benefits. Good use is made of archive footage showing Tenzing Norgay and Edmond Hillary in 1953 when they reached the summit for the first time; the point being succinctly made that Norgay was never given rightful credit.
The crux of the film concentrates on the 2014 avalanche in which a 14,000 tonne block of ice is dislodged, causing death and chaos. What are the ramifications of this event and how does this affect the Sherpa, the tour operator, the tourists and the tourist industry per se? Beyond the actual tragedy of the event, this is an intriguing issue. I was a little disappointed in the way this was handled. Additionally, the use of music by talented composer Antony Partos is heavy handed.
Sherpa should be a hugely impactful film with an emotional impact. Instead it falls short - not because of the content but due to the treatment.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Documentary is a fascinating genre: it can lead filmmakers to unexpected places and smartly opportunistic filmmakers (in the best sense), will take advantage of such opportunities. This is such a case. This is such a film. Far more meaningful and engaging than the film they set out to make (no disrespect intended), this is human tragedy filmed as it happens. Like war footage, it is raw and chaotic yet edited into a cohesive story, it is informative and moving.
The reactions of a complex set of humans is authentically captured when natural disaster kills 16 Sherpas. With grief comes anger and blame.
The filmmakers capture the moment with clear heads, while those involved are confused and uncertain.
But that's the big picture. The detail is also important, and we get lots of it, without tired, cliche shots, and without predictable music cues.
It's a bracing film, told without an agenda, except to observe, inform, enlighten.
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SHERPA - TROUBLE ON EVEREST (M)
PRODUCER: John Smithson, Bridget Ikin
DIRECTOR: Jennifer Peedom
SCRIPT: Jennifer Peedom
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Renan Ozturk, Hugh Miller, Ken Sauls
EDITOR: Christian Gazal
MUSIC: Antony Partos
PRODUCTION DESIGN: n/a
RUNNING TIME: 96 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Transmission
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: March 31, 2016