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TIFF Review: Sherpa



As Phurba Tashi Sherpa prepares for his world record-setting 22nd ascent as a guide of Mount Everest, tragedy strikes which results in his people having a showdown with the government of Nepal and Western expedition operators.

No ascent of Mount Everest can be accomplished without the assistance and expertise of the natives of Nepal known as Sherpas who have become the tour guides for the tallest mountain in the world.  One of the most accomplished climbers is Phurba Tashi Sherpa who prepares to reach the summit for the 22ndtime which has never been accomplished before.  The world famous natural landmark is at the centre of the tourist industry for Nepal where Western expedition operations charge as much as $100,000 to adventure-seekers with the government taking a third of the fee and Sherpas earning $5000.  The financial discrepancy gets magnified when an avalanche kills 16 Sherpas leading to a work stoppage, demands for better financial security, and the need for safer working conditions.

It is fascinating to learn about the people living in the shadow of Mountain Everest responsible for enabling famous Western mountain climbers to reach the peak.  Sherpas are a tight social community dependent on earning a living by being tour guides where their life is constantly put at risk.  Archival footage helps to put the situation in historical context and the aerial shots emphasize the beauty as well as the danger of the mountain terrain.  There is no voice over narration as all of the information comes through interviews and audio clips from radio communication and news broadcasts.  The musical score is not intrusive but adds a sense of wonder to the proceedings.

Timing is everything and while the production for the documentary was taking place the deadly avalanche occurred allowing the production crew to get first-hand footage of the rescue operation and the social unrest that followed.  A helicopter arrives with a government official who only serves to heighten the growing tension which in essence leads to a labour strike.  This is all very dramatic but in some ways the extensive coverage of the tragic event derails the pacing of the documentary.  The storytelling gets bogged down with interviews that come across more as filler than insightful commentaries.  Overall, Sherpa is fascinating look into the natives of Nepal who deserve to be placed in the spotlight rather being treated as a historical footnote.



Trevor Hogg is a freelance video editor and writer who currently resides in Canada; he can be found at LinkedIn.


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