Major festival prize for Sherpa

Jen Peedom’s Sherpa has won the prize for best documentary at the 59th BFI London Film Festival.

Martin Butler and Bentley Dean’s Tanna received a jury commendation and Cate Blanchett was presented with the BFI Fellowship by her friend and co-star of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit films Sir Ian McKellen.

In bestowing the Grierson Award for the best documentary on Sherpa, the jury said, “We are taken into the lives, homes and families of the Sherpas, who have for too long been overlooked and exploited, dependent for their livelihoods on an increasing number of tourists who sometimes regard them as little more than owned slaves.

“We’re left with an appreciation of the sacrifices the Sherpa community have made for over 6 decades. We applaud this impressive film for giving voice to a previously voiceless community, and we hope it reaches the wide, general audience that it deserves.”

Felix Media's Bridget Ikin, who produced with Arrow Media's John Smithson, said, "Sherpa was a particularly challenging film to make so we are thrilled that it has been recognised by this important award."

Tanna was commended by the jury of the Sutherland Award which goes to the director of the most original and imaginative first feature in the festival.

The winner was  Robert Eggers’ The Witch, the tale of a 17th century New England family torn apart by tension and the suspicion of witchcraft.

The jury said of Tanna, “It’s a rare skill to give a voice to a typically marginalized community that doesn’t condescend or patronize and for this reason the jury would like to give special mention to Tanna.”

Transmission Films will launch Sherpa on February 25. In other Sherpa news, the doco's creative team has implicitly criticized Universal’s Everest for all but ignoring the Sherpas who were involved in the 1996 tragedy.

Sherpa’s Facebook page linked to an opinion piece by columnist Vaishna Roy, who complained, “If we must make a movie about the fortitude and courage it takes a human being to climb the Everest, it is laughable that we make the Sherpas invisible. Is courage only white in colour?

“Yes, the film has Sherpas, but their characterisation is extraordinarily patronising.”

The Sherpa FB page commented, “We have read many messages from our Sherpa friends in recent weeks about their lack in inclusion in the Everest movie. This article sums up their discontent quite well, and articulates some of the reasons we wanted to make Sherpa film.”