The Wall of Shadows review – climbing film overturns smiling Sherpa stereotype | Movies

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Like Jennifer Peedom’s 2015 film, Sherpa, this climbing documentary is more interested in the Nepali ethnic group than the westerners who hire them – chipping away at the stereotype of Sherpas as smiling, uncomplaining helpers. The director is climber and documentary-maker Eliza Kubarska whose film follows Ngada, who has eight Everest ascents under his belt. He is agonising about whether to guide a trio of experienced climbers – two Russians and a Pole – on an expedition to the unclimbed eastern face of Kumbhakarna, a more dangerous and difficult climb than Everest.

The reason Ngada is willing to risk it is that his 16-year-old son, Dawa, is a gifted student who dreams of becoming a doctor, but there is no money to pay for his education. Some of the scenes in the family’s home feel staged, or at least reconstructed, as Ngada and his wife, Jomdoe, bicker about whether he should take the Kumbhakarna job. Jomdoe cooks for Ngada’s expeditions and is no slouch. While pregnant she lugged a 25kg load to base camp; she says it’s mad to climb the mountain. You can see her point when Kumbhakarna looms into view, a fearsome hulk of rock and ice. The expedition is plagued by heavy snowfall and Ngada wants to call it a day, fearing an avalanche, but if he doesn’t climb, he doesn’t get paid. The trio press ahead.

This is a balanced film that doesn’t pick sides. But Kubarska is asking us to consider the ethical issues involved when foreign mountaineers expect Sherpas to take huge risks in pursuit of their conquests. It’s virtually impossible not to sympathise with the Sherpas who are dressed in inferior gear and carry loads weighing up to 50kg to base camp in thigh-deep snow – one guy is bent double with a package the size of a fridge strapped to his back.

The Wall of Shadows is released on 22 April in cinemas.



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