Words by Sam Haddad
There are heaps of Hollywood movies about mountaineering. Until now they’ve stuck to a similar template. Western* climber takes on a mighty peak. He, and it always is a he, overcomes adversity in a wild and spectacular setting. Rousing, dramatic music plays at key moments. He’ll nearly die a couple of times, and almost certainly lose a friend or loved one before the final credits roll. [*for want of a better word]
But Sherpa, an award-winning new film about Everest and the Sherpas, the ethnic group who live and work in Nepal’s eastern regions, takes that tired old narrative and tramples it into the ice. Directed by Jennifer Peedom from Australia, it’s the story of the world’s highest mountain, from the previously untold perspective of the Sherpas. It shines a light on how dangerous their work is and how that risk feels for them and their family members waiting at home for their safe return.
“We climb the mountain because it’s a holy place…western people approach it as a physical challenge…to see how close you can get to death”
The film also asks questions as to how complicit western climbers are in causing that danger, with their ever-increasing demands for a “comfortable” Everest experience. And it looks more broadly at the clash of cultures played out between westerners and Sherpas.
As Jamling Tenzing Norgay, son of Tenzing Norgay, who was one of the first two people to climb Everest in 1953 with Edmund Hillary, says in the film: “Over here we climb the mountain because it’s a holy place. There’s a huge difference in the attitude, the feeling. Western people approach it as a physical challenge, to push a limit, to see how close you can get to death.”