Film Review by Clayton Barnett
Sixty years after Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay conquered Mt. Everest, a group of Western climbers and angry Sherpas allegedly got into a confrontation that made global headlines. Director Jennifer Peedom set out to uncover tension from the Sherpas' point of view and instead captured a tragedy when an avalanche struck, killing 16 Sherpas. Sherpa tells the story of how they united after the tragedy in the face of fierce opposition, to reclaim the mountain they call Chomolungma.
There’s nothing on earth quite like Everest, it’s dangerous allure makes for compelling cinema, especially with the drama and heartbreak seen in the stunning Bafta-nominated doco Sherpa.
As New Zealanders we have unique ties to the mountain, we celebrated as Hillary and Norgay conquered it in 1953 and in 1996 we were rocked by the Kiwi climbing tragedy depicted in last year’s Everest. And it’s a mountain that deserves respect, but expensive western Everest expeditions has seen the commercialisation of Chomolungma and the sherpas regarded as smiling assistants.
Having filmed Everest for over a decade, and seeing the Sherpa’s efforts left on the editing room floor, Australian director Jennifer Peedom set out to tell their side of the story, helped by the producer of Touching the Void and 127 Hours.
Timing is everything in documentary filming, and Peedom ended up right in the middle of the worst disaster to hit Everest (before last year’s earthquakes). Through the tragedy they filmed the amazing clash of ideals between the proud sherpas, the western expedition companies and the greedy Nepalese government.
Peedom focuses her story on Phurba Tashi, the talented Sherpa who had climbed Everest 22 times and is the beating heart of this doco. There are beautifully shot intimate moments with his family, who he reluctantly leaves to work for Kiwi Russell Brice who runs Himalayan Experience. Their working relationship is put under immense pressure, as loyalties are torn when the sherpa’s try and wrest control of Chomolunga.
Matching the intense relationships are the stunning visuals. Utilising high-end cameras, Go Pro’s and cellphones the filmmakers capture some truly breathtaking and frightening footage. If you missed it at last year’s International Film Festival don’t make the same mistake again.
A David v Goliath battle at 8,000 metres above sea level, Sherpa is an eye-opening and jaw-dropping doco not to be missed.
Releases: 7th April 2016
Rating: M – Contains offensive language
Duration: 96 minutes
Director: Jennifer Peedom (Miracle on Everest)
Director Jennifer Peedom also operated a camera. The cinematographers additionally trained Nima and Nawang Sherpa on Sony Handicams and GoPros to film the Icefalls.
Much was shot handheld, and Freefly Systems also lent the production a MoVI lightweight stabilization rig that was used in conjunction with the Red Epic for some sweeping shots. Also some aerials from a helicopter were shot 'hanging out an open door'.