Review: Sherpa (2015)

Trials, terror and tragedy at the top of the world

If you’ve ever wanted to get an idea of the challenges that climbing Mount Everest presents, without actually having a go yourself, then this feature-length docu-drama is a great place to start. Just make sure that you’re prepared for a harrowing and, at times, tragic tale.

That’s because Sherpa is more than just an account of the perils of a trek up Chomolungma, to give the world’s highest peak its native name. This is a film that goes deep into the heart of the community that are themselves at the heart of Everest – the Sherpas are in fact an ethnic group all of their own – and the trails and tribulations they face from a social, moral, religious and, in this case, political point of view.

This is especially true today because times have changed irrevocably. Gone are the days, it would seem, of the happy, yet meek and subservient Sherpa, that was first characterised by Tensing Norgay on the famous Edmund Hillary expedition in 1953. Such Sherpas are still in existence, but now there are those who demand far greater reward and compensation for their dangerous endeavours. When one considers how little Tensing gained from his heroics, you can see their point.

In 2013, this culminated in violence between some Sherpas and foreigners wishing to climb Everest, so a film crew decided to investigate and gain footage of such scenes – Mother Nature ensured that they got far more than they bargained for.

Set against jaw-dropping scenery, and with camerawork that is as intrepid as it is spectacular, Sherpa really does hammer home the quandary faced by the local community and how its young men are dicing with death just to make a living. It is a stark account that allows the audience to empathise, while at the same time making you wonder why anyone even contemplates trying to reach the ‘roof of the world’.

The editing and direction cleverly intertwine interviews and footage of life at ‘base camp’, as well as the viewpoints of various family members, and the rollercoaster of emotions they experience whenever their loved ones go out to do their job of guides to the many who come to Nepal in an attempt to realise this most lofty of ambitions.

When asked why he wanted to conquer Everest, the esteemed British mountaineer George Mallory replied infamously: “Because it’s there.” Why should you give Sherpa a watch? Because it’s brilliant.

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