April 18, 2014: a massive avalanche is triggered on Mount Everest and 16 Sherpa have been killed, leaving a local community devastated. Suspended between what was supposed to happen and what happens next, production crews from across the world who had been filming on site for one reason or another packed their equipment and headed home, seemingly unable to proceed – or unsure how to.
But the Sherpa film crew stayed.
“We had no film, but we had a story,” producer John Smithson recalled.
Director Jennifer Peedom had initially come to Everest to chronicle Sherpa leader Phurba Tashi as he set out on his record-breaking 22nd ascent up the mountain. Having worked for decades as a director and camera operator on films featuring Himalayan expeditions, Peedom felt it was time for a film exclusively on Sherpas.
Once tragedy struck, the focus of the documentary shifted to how the Sherpa community united in grief and anger to reclaim the mountain. Sherpa offers viewers exclusive access into the community, made possible not only by the generosity of the Sherpa families who let filmmakers into their daily lives but the user-generated content captured on-site. With a “let anyone film anything” philosophy, Sherpas were provided with a variety of devices by filmmakers in order to capture as authentic footage as possible.
The documentary has been extremely well-received by audiences and critics alike, winning the Grierson Award at the 2015 BFI London Festival and being named an official selection of the 2015 Telluride Film Festival. It airs on Discovery as part of the network’s second annual ‘Elevation Weekend,’ which takes viewers to striking destinations, following men and women on their journey to conquer the elements.
Sherpa premieres Saturday, April 23 at 9/8c on Discovery.