Peedom’s resulting feature-length documentary, – which premiered at last year’s Sydney Film Festival and is now in commercial release – is not a film about that record-breaking climb, because it never took place.
Early on the morning of April 18, 2014, a multi-million-tonne block of ice ‘the size of a Beverly Hills mansion’ (to quote climber and writer Jon Krakauer) broke loose and crashed through the Khumbu Icefall.
It had always been her intention to document village life, but after the avalanche, she wondered if she and her crew had become ‘ambulance chasers’.
Eventually, and with the agreement of the villagers, Peedom went ahead with these scenes, in order that the deceased Sherpas might be seen as more than ‘faceless statistics’.
A decade later, she was in Nepal to make another film about the Sherpa, with a particular focus on mountaineer Phurba Tashi Sherpa, who, in 2014, before the annual climbing season on Everest began, had summited the world’s highest peak an astonishing twenty-one times.
He shared that achievement with another mountaineer, Apa Sherpa, and one more successful summit would have have given Phurba Tashi the world record in his own right.
The disaster, says Peedom, placed the existing tensions between Sherpa mountaineers and Western climbers ‘under a microscope’.
She and her crew – which included high-altitude director and cinematographer Renan Ozturk and two Sherpa camera operators, Nima and Narwang Sherpa – ‘no longer had a climbing film about getting to the summit of Everest, we had a political film.’ , a documentary about the mysterious and fatal 1924 expedition undertaken by British mountaineers George Mallory and Andrew Irvine. Mallory’s body was found in 1999, but Irvine’s remains have never been found.) Few films about the mountain have included the Sherpa in any substantive way. The film includes only one Sherpa character, who is negatively portrayed.
Base Camp sits at an altitude of 5400m, and the mountain’s summit at 8850m.‘I’ve witnessed how things really work on Everest,’ Peedom tells me, ‘and then witnessed the resulting films, none of which really show that work, because it somehow lessens the hero narrative or the achievement.’ , by contrast, reconceptualises Everest: in Peedom’s film we see a mountain that is both workplace and sacred site, integral to both the economic livelihood and the religious beliefs of the surrounding Sherpa community.For the Sherpa, Everest is Chomolungma, the mother of the Earth, a living deity who must be respected.When the avalanche happened most of the Western climbers were, Peedom says, ‘still asleep in their tents’.Phurba Tashi and his team, employed by New Zealand expedition leader Russell Brice, were unharmed.