When tourists with dreams of summiting Mount Everest finally reach the peak, they have not made it there alone.

For every expedition up Everest a team of Nepalese locals, known as sherpas often cover the same ground several times, carrying supplies, tents, food and emergency equipment through perilous ice falls in order to keep tourists safe and comfortable. The risks the sherpas take are far greater than those the foreigners take and the credit they receive is minimal.

Australian director Jennifer Peedom contrasts the sherpas’ Buddhist religion and their respect for the mountain with the foreigners’ dreams of proving themselves against nature and ‘conquering’ the mountain.

The Buddhist ceremony held to request permission to climb, is more than a taste of local colour for the tourists. It is an acknowledgement and reminder of the peril everyone who climbs Everest takes on, whether they are climbing in order to achieve a life long dream, or to feed their families in the villages below.

When the 2014 climbing season opened with a disaster that claimed the lives of 16 sherpas, Peedom’s team were on hand to record how the power dynamics between the tourists, sherpas, the Nepalese government, and the foreign expedition leaders played out in an arena which had already begun to show signs of tension the previous year.

Peedom shapes her material into a satisfying narrative that opens up the experience of the sherpas who serve the expeditions, and the lives and concerns of their families. The film brings to life the sherpas’ quest for greater respect for the sacredness of the mountain, the lost lives of their peers and for safer conditions and better treatment when, inevitably, people lose their lives in the service of Nepal’s tourism industry and the dreams of tourists from around the world.

Sherpa’s cinematography is unsurprisingly full of grandeur with reminders of the smallness of humans in this treacherous landscape. The Buddhist prayer flags add colour and the warm interiors of the family homes create a welcome contrast to the unforgiving mountain-scapes. Swelling violin music serves to reinforce the massive size of the landscape and the power of the environment.

Sherpa is an eye-opening look at the Everest expeditions from a different and important angle. It is essential viewing for anyone who dreams of one day conquering Everest and a good reminder for all of us who travel to countries less well off than our own to bear in mind the humanity of those who serve us there.

I watched Sherpa as part of the “52 films by women” challenge which you can sign up for here.

Originally published by Togatus http://www.togatus.com.au/review-sherpa/

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