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Byron Shire
April 21, 2021

Cinema Review: Sherpa

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The very best docos are those that evolve before your eyes, in an organic way that is free of bombast and cant. Unconcerned with gouging her imprimatur on her movie, as is Michael Moore’s way, Australian director Jennifer Peedom lets the story tell itself – and what an incredibly moving, confronting story this is. Peedom was in Nepal ostensibly to follow the sherpa Phurba on his record twenty-second ascent of Mount Everest. During filming, in April 2014, sixteen of Phurba’s fellow guides – hired to do the heavy carrying and camp preparation for Western ‘adventurers’ – were killed in an avalanche. The riveting drama of the following days is a shameful indictment of how the commerce of tourism so often goes hand in glove with a complete disregard for others. Of the hordes of people who arrive at the mountain during climbing season, Peedom’s crew were with a group led by New Zealander Russell Brice who, out of his own mouth, condemns himself as a man of pious and patronising duplicity. Telling one thing to his clients and another to his sherpas, who, after the tragedy, were unwilling to continue, he is Cassius in an anorak, with his eye never far off the dollar. Casual racism invariably accompanies exploitation of the poor, but it is nevertheless shameful beyond words to hear a disgruntled client of Brice’s ask which tour organiser ‘owns’ the more militant guides who had the temerity to agitate for better conditions. Encouraged by Brice’s divisive reports (was he not aware of how he was exposing himself on camera?), one American, peeved at not getting his selfie on the peak, refers to the disgruntled sherpas as ‘terrorists’. The photography, much of it hand-held, captures the environment’s majesty and ever-present danger, while Antony Partos’s score is delicate and haunting – as accompaniment to a helicopter, dwarfed by the mass of rock and snow, trailing a body back to base, it was too much for me. Devastatingly sad, this is agitprop as high art and it makes an absolute mockery of the sinkhole of Marvel dross.


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