TELLURIDE FILM FEST
Telluride 2015: 'Sherpa' is One of the Best Documentaries I've Seen
by Alex Billington
September 8, 2015
I love this documentary. It's beautifully made, with so much breathtaking and remarkable footage. Sherpa, directed by Jennifer Peedom, is a doc about the sherpas of Nepal. Most people have heard of them (the most famous being Tenzing Norgay, who was first to reach the summit of Everest with Sir Edmund Hillary), maybe seen a few photos, but they're rarely seen in movies - even ones about climbing Everest. But in reality the sherpas do all of the work, carrying massive loads of supplies up/down the mountain while western "clients" sit in heated tents waiting for their trek upwards. This documentary about the sherpas is one of the best documentaries I have ever seen, and I genuinely mean that. It's an exhilarating and moving experience.
What makes Sherpa such an extraordinary doc is Peedom's luck (if it can be called that) in being at the right place and the right time. She already was making a doc about the sherpas in the Himalayas and happened to be there in 2014 during one of the deadliest disasters in Everest history. In one day, 16 sherpas died in an avalanche on the mountain. The remaining sherpas banded together and forced the climbing season to end, stating that they would not continue on climbing over their fallen brothers. She captures the moment this happens, and everything that followed, including the rescue operation and ensuing revolt from the sherpas who decided to speak up. I couldn't hold in my emotions, tears were streaming down my face at this point.
Over the course of 96 minutes, Sherpa teaches any/everyone to have an immense amount of respect for these people. They have worked hard for so many years throughout the history of mountaineering in Nepal, but are still regarded almost as slaves by the westerners who pay large amounts of money to climb Everest. And the sherpas are sick and tired of this, they want to make themselves known and respected as equals. They truly deserve the same amount of respect as all the other climbers and guides. This doc presents their story so exquisitely, with so much humanity, that if successful it could be a real revelation that will change the way the sherpas are viewed worldwide. At least that's what I'm hoping. (It opens in NY/LA in October.)
Every choice that Peedom makes in this documentary is inspired and carefully considered. There are no recreations, it's all very real footage. There is no news footage to take us out of the experience, only audio clips to provide context. And the shots she gets of the mountains, the climbers, the sherpas, it's all truly awe-inspiring to watch. I love everything about this documentary, and maybe it just hit me at the right time, the right place, but I can't help say it's one of the finest examples of documentary filmmaking this year. The attention to detail, the jaw-dropping beauty of every single shot, the even-keeled storytelling, the focus on the sherpas and their struggles, their passions, make it the kind of documentary that other docs aspire to be.
There are only a few times when I encounter a film that leaves a truly lasting impact on me. Before I even saw Sherpa, based on the buzz and the description, I knew that I was going to like it. But I didn't know I'd fall head over heels for it. Because it's not until that moment when the lights go down, and the projector fires up, and the film begins playing, that it pulls you in and two hours later, you've had an experience you will never forget. I pursue these moments like no other, and when this happens, I have to do everything I can to tell everyone I can about that film. Sherpa is one of those films, and I am so glad I found it. Or maybe it found me. Now I must tell everyone about it, and hope you have the same eye-opening experience I did.
Alex's Telluride Rating: 10 out of 10
Follow Alex on Twitter - @firstshowing