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Sherpa (4 stars)

Hard-hitting documentary about the dangerous business of guiding people up Everest

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Sherpa

Climbing Everest is big business these days. Wealthy westerners pay up to $75,000 for the privilege of making the ascent and ticking another item off their bucket list. The treacherous slopes are often as crowded as a golden beach on a hot summer’s day and there are some stunning aerial shots in Sherpa showing the human traffic jams that can develop. It all seems a long way from the moment when Edmund Hillary and Sherpa mountaineer Tenzing Norgay heroically completed the first successful ascent of the mountain in 1953.

The original intention of Jennifer Peedom’s eye-opening film (winner of the 2015 London Film Festival’s Grierson Award for Best Documentary) was to chart the 2014 climbing season when Sherpa guide Phurba Tashi was set to make his record-breaking 22nd ascent of Everest. Early scenes pay tribute to his unassuming manner, the concerns of his family and the reality that being a guide is the one sure means of economic survival. Peedom wound up making a very different film after the avalanche in April 2014 that killed 16 Sherpas in the Khumbu Icefall. The deaths became a defining moment, bringing global attention to the unsung heroes of the Everest industry and the conditions in which they work.

A Sherpa can earn around $5,000 for a season’s work and the fragile local economy depends on Everest. At the same time, the Sherpas receive the least rewards for the greatest risks and are often faced by climbers with little respect for local customs and beliefs; a younger generation are no longer willing to be the compliant, poorly-paid lackeys of businessmen and climbers. Blending visual spectacle with complex moral dilemmas, Peedom has created a hard-hitting, wide-ranging documentary that captures a sense of the vital issues that will determine the future of Everest and the local communities.

Limited release from Fri 18 Dec.

Sherpa

  • 4 stars
  • 2015
  • Australia/Nepal
  • 96 min
  • Directed by: Jennifer Peedom
  • UK release: 18 December 2015

Director Peedom originally planned to make a film about the 2014 Everest climbing season, but when 16 Sherpas were killed at the Khumbu Icefall in 2014, the film's focus changed to the conditions Sherpas work in. With spectacular visuals and complex moral dilemmas, it's a hard-hitting and wide-ranging documentary.

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