An award-winning documentary about Sherpas, this film puts them screen centre in a work about Everest and the related tourist industry that thrives and has been called The Everest Circus.


This is certainly a very decent documentary as my rating indicates, but I must confess surprise at the fact that it came top of its category to win the Grierson award at this year’s BFI London Film Festival. Even so it is a film undoubtedly worth seeing and one that, given its impressive location photography in ’Scope and colour, certainly deserves to be viewed on the big screen.


The filmmaker is also an experienced climber and that serves to explain why Jennifer Peedom has made a whole series of documentaries about mountaineering. The first was a short entitled The Sherpa’s Burden (2004) and it was then that she met Phurba Tashi who is the central figure here. A leading Sherpa, we find him leading a team of twenty five of his own choice for the expedition operator Russell Brice. Brice in particular but also some of his clients and the mountaineering writer Ed Douglas make appearances, but first and foremost this is the world of Everest seen from the viewpoint of the Sherpas. They play such a crucial role as high-altitude workers in the Himalayas that the term Sherpa which once defined an ethnic group is now equally understood as a job description.




Concerned with the risks undertaken by Sherpas in order to earn enough to keep their families and recognising a situation in which often underpaid men were given inadequate protection from the dangers that they had to accept, Peedom had set up her film before a catastrophe occurred in April 2014. A massive block of ice crushed down onto the route through the Khumbu Icefall killing sixteen Sherpas. It would lead to fierce disputes about cancelling expeditions and obtaining better conditions.


Sherpa, arguably slightly overlong although lasting for only 96 minutes, was restructured to make this tragic incident central to the film - indeed, the film leads off with a preview of it before moving back twelve days and even then it incorporates dire warnings about the risks that Phurba will be running. This playing up of the drama reminds us of some of the clichés of fiction and Sherpa is immediately more effective when covering the day-to-day life of the Sherpas. But when it returns to the events of April 18th 2014 the film lets the drama speak for itself and allows a say to all parties. It thus provides a good insight into a place, a people and a way of life. 




Featuring  Phurba Tashi, Russell Brice, Ed Douglas.


Dir Jennifer Peedom, Pro Bridget Ikin and John Smithson, Screenplay Jennifer Peedom, Ph Renan Ozturk, Hugh Miller and Ken Sauls, Ed Christian Gazal, Music Antony Partos.


Universal Pictures/Screen Australia/Discovery/a Felxi Media and Arrow Media production-Universal.
96 mins. Australia/Nepal. 2015. Rel: 18 December 2015. Cert. 15.