Director Jen Peedom has been working on projects on Mount Everest for almost a decade. In her film Sherpa, she turns the narrative of the typical Everest documentary on its head by telling the story through the lens of the native people that help lead foreigners to the summit.
She tells the story at a pivotal time: the cameras are there in 2014 when an avalanche causes the deadliest day in Mount Everest’s history. This prompts an uprising among the Sherpas - demanding better compensation and support for those that lose their lives on the mountain. KBIA’s Ryan Famuliner spoke with Peedom about the film, Which she says grew out of her observations while working on previous films.
Peedom: “I was really surprised to the extent to which the Sherpas got left on the cutting room floor, you know, as much as I tried to get their angle into these bigger shows, they would always be kind of sacrificed for the greater hero narrative of the foreign climbers and for two reasons that bothered me. A because it just didn’t seem fair, and B it just felt that there actually was a really amazing story there. And so it was just something that was you know sitting in the back of my mind over a number of years and... again having observed the Sherpas over a decade really I saw to the extent to which that dynamic between western climbers and Sherpas was changing. They were getting more confident, they had more access to media, they could watch youtube they saw they were being left out of these films. I sort of decided at that point, well maybe now is the time to make that film I’ve been wanting to make all those years. So I started to get myself organized and then we were just cutting the pitch trailer for the film when the fight rorke out between the foreign climbers and the Sherpas that you see in the film. And so that really galvanized the idea that now it the time to make that film because it seemed to me to be to a symptom that things are at a little bit of a tipping point and that now would be a really good time to make that film. And so I think that event helped us get financed.”
Famuliner: It seems very interesting because watching the film obviously you’re there when the deadliest day in Everest to that point happens, right? And it seems like things are somewhat spontaneous the things that are happening. What I’m hearing from you is that you anticipated, not that that tragedy was going to happen, of course, but that these tensions were rising in ways they haven’t before.
Peedom: Yeah, it’s true. I guess for an outsider to watch the film it probably looks like wow she just kind of stumbled in there and this thing happened and she got really lucky. But it never really works like that. It was a decade of building that relationship. I don’t think there was anyone else at Base Camp at that point that could have got the access I did to tell that story. Because what happened is that word traveled fast on the Sherpa grapevine. Initially the Sherpas were saying, “No no no no, no cameras.” And then my translator, or the Sherpa from the next camp who happened to be standing there or somebody else would say, “no no no no no, she’s from the Sherpa film. They’re making that Sherpa film,” which the word had already spread about the Sherpa film. And, “No no no, she’s OK, she’s OK.” And so within a few days I had them, Sherpas coming to me to tell their story and I had them pushing people out of the way at those big meetings so I could get a better camera position. So I think it’s, access in documentary, I’m sure you know, it’s sort of everything,”
Listen to the full interview with Peedom here: