- Director: Jennifer Peedom
- Disc Format: Closed-captioned, Color, NTSC, Widescreen
- Language: English
- Region: Region 1
- Number of discs: 1
- Rated: PG
- Studio: LIONSGATE
- Release Date: October 11, 2016
- Run Time: 93 minutes
Sometimes the difference between making a good documentary and a great one is just the simple luck of being at the right place at the right time. If I had to guess, I would assume that director Jennifer Peedom set out to make Sherpa as a film about the record-breaking climb of Everest by one of the local guides. Had he completed the summit during the 2014 expedition, Sirdar Phurba Tashi Sherpa would have beaten the record for the number of times a single person has reached the top of the infamous mountain. While that may have been the original intentions of Peedom’s film, it quickly became about something else as a tragic avalanche occurred during the 2014 expedition, taking the lives of a record number of Sherpa guides in one afternoon.
The devastation of the avalanche would have been subject enough for the documentary, with a crew of filmmakers on site to film the tragedy, but it quickly evolved into a larger issue in the aftermath. The remaining Nepalese guides insisted that the lives lost in the avalanche be given respect by canceling the expedition to the summit, also using the situation to raise many issues with human and worker rights. What began as a natural disaster turned into a protest on the mountain by the local guides who have made the climbing industry at Everest so successful, and Peedom was there with her cameras to film.
In order to properly understand the frustration of the guides, one must look back on the history of Sherpa involvement. Peedom gives us this historical background, focusing first on Sherpa Tenzing Norgay, the man to first summit Mount Everest alongside New Zealander Edmund Hillary. While Tenzing became an icon for many, he was also treated as a lesser to the man who climbed to the top alongside him. This treatment of Nepalese guides as servants rather than equals came to a head in 2013, with the local workers physically striking back at a group of climbers they believed had disrespected them. This fight on Mount Everest was highly publicized, and is likely another reason Phurba was the subject of Peedom’s documentary.
By the end of the film it is quite clear which side of this argument that Peedom is on, though she accomplishes this by subtly allowing the tour guides and their rich clients the opportunity to speak their opinions in a way that eventually shows their true colors. Russell Brice, the owner of a New Zealand climbing company called Himalayan Experience, at first appears to be sympathetic to the cause of his workers but ultimately is more concerned with his own business than the lives of his employees. Even going so far as to lie to his clients in a way that shifts blame elsewhere, Brice becomes a dual example of Western pride and greed in direct contrast to Phurba, who chooses to give up the opportunity to break his record in order to show respect for the dead.
The DVD special features include a making-of featurette and handful of deleted scenes. What really surprises me is the fact that this film is only available on DVD, despite the landscape visuals which seem perfectly suited for a high definition presentation.
Entertainment Value: 7.5/10
Quality of Filmmaking: 8.5/10
Historical Significance: 6/10
Special Features: 4/10