Directed by Jennifer Peedom (2015)
Sherpa is about the indigenous Nepaese (known as Sherpa) who escort Westerners who attempt to climb Mt Everest. Tenzing Norgay, who accompanied Sir Edmond Hillary in his 1953 ascent of Everest, is the most famous Sherpa. Serving both as guides and as burden bearers, Sherpa have a unique genetic endowment that enables them to adapt to low oxygen levels at high altitudes.
The film quite elegantly depicts how Western tour operators have transformed the ascent of Mt Everest into a multimillion dollar industry. For a charge of $70,000 (or more), Westerners stay in a luxurious base camp complex while Sherpa travel up and down the mountain with enormous platforms, tents, tables, bookcases, chairs, heater, toilets, food and oxygen tanks and other climbing equipment, as well as carting their aluminum cans and other garbage down the mountain.
The film also eloquently depicts the patronizing and condescending attitude of Western tour operators and climbers towards a group of people who undertake extremely dangerous work for very low pay. The most dangerous of the Sherpa’s duties involve repeated trips with heavy packs through the Kumba Ice Flow.*
Unfortunately the government of Nepal captures most of the domestic revenue generated by the Everest industry, despite the extreme risk the Shirpa are expected to take on.
The climax of the film is a 2014 Sherpa strike that shut down the climbing season when 16 Sherpa were killed in an avalanche and the government refused to pay death benefits to their surviving families.
*The Kumba Ice Flow is a continuously moving cascade of giant ice blocks that is subject to frequent avalanches.
The film can be viewed for the next 10 days at the Maori TV website: https://www.maoritelevision.com/docos/sherpa