On April 18th 2014 an enormous block of ice fell onto the most treacherous part of the Mount Everest climb, the Khumbu Icefall, killing 16 Sherpas. Jennifer Peedom’s SHERPA is an award nominated documentary about the life of Sherpas, their families, and the implications of the biggest tragedy to occur on Everest.
Following a brawl between European climbers and angry Sherpas in 2013, Peedom and her team set out to film a season on Everest, or Chomolungma to the locals, from the Sherpa’s point of view. Phurba Tashi Sherpa is vying to take out the world record for the number of ascent to Everest as the season opens in 2014. Phurba works for Himalayan Experience operator Russell Brice, who like many operators on the mountain, employs a number of Sherpa’s to climb the mountain in preparation for the thrill seekers looking to make it to Everest’s Summit. But just as the season is beginning, the most devastating avalanche ever on Mount Everest kills a number of people, only missing the Sherpas working for Brice by seconds.
Tensions rise within Everest Base Camp and many of the Sherpas begin banding together and making demands of the government and tour operators. Media all over the world covered the events that followed the Sherpas revolt, but it was Peedom and her crew that were on the ground, filming every moment of their retaliation. Not only is SHERPA about the lives of these Sherpas, but it explores the over capitalised nature of Everest as a tourist spot for westerners. Sherpas are a deeply religious group of people, who view Mount Everest as a highly religious place; praying before they climb, and fearing the mountain will retaliate for allowing so many people to climb it. The trust that Peedom has gained over her years working and filming in the Himalayas gave her access to places and people she may not have had as an outsider.
There is a very serious political element of SHERPA, with somewhat of a revolution forming from within the the camp, bubbling up and essentially closing down the mountain for the rest of the season. With the avalanche being reported on so heavily around the world, the context of SHERPA is one that many people are interested in. The gravity of the incident left the entire future of the tourism industry that Tibet came to rely so heavily on, teetering on the edge of ruin.
Not only does Peedom create an incredibly involved and compelling story with the lives of the Sherpas, the documentary has some of the most spectacular cinematography. Perhaps this has a lot to do with the picturesque nature of Mount Everest, and the colourfulness of the Sherpa culture against the pristine white backdrop, but every moment of SHERPA is soothing and beautiful to watch. Every shot seems somewhat surreal, but at the same time, it feels very real. This is especially noticeable in the moments were we see the avalanche fall over a Sherpa wearing a camera.
With one terrible event leading the crew to Mount Everest to discover the truth, they were in the right place at the right time to capture a defining moment in the history of mountaineering in the region. SHERPA is an amazing exploration of the lives of Sherpas and the disastrous events that led to huge changes in the region.