59th London Film Festival 12th Day

All done and dusted. No more snatched meals of skinny burgers* and chips from Byron or The Riverfront; no more Haagen Daz Banana Caramel Crêpes; no more Steak & Co meat platters and above all no more speeding from screen to screen.
* a burger without the bun

My final day was at Sherpa and 3000 Nights. Two very different films but both with an important and unforgettable message.

SherpaJennifer Peedom‘s film Sherpa set out to tell the story of the work that goes on behind the European/World tourist mountaineers’ attempts to climb Everest. When I told my son about this film he simply could not quite believe the effort and danger undertaken by the Sherpas just to get a few people up a mountain.

Basically, the film crew began by studying and listening to the Sherpas in their family settings, they then agreed to follow one man and his team, he was the lead Sherpa with an Australian outfit. It takes about 16 Sherpas per tourist team to carry all the equipment up to Base Camp at 21,000 feet above sea level. This is the lowest gathering point on Everest. This camp is a holding bay for the tourist teams waiting to go up the mountain, the store for all the equipment: tents, oxygen bottles, ladders, ropes, food, climbing tackle and ‘stuff’ that is required to get everyone up the mountain. From Base Camp to Camp One and beyond, the equipment has to be transported across a glacier called The Khumbu Icefall, this frozen field of crevasses and towers of ice is constantly on the move, what might be safe in the morning, might not be safe later.

So finally after creating a strongly positive and healthy relationship with the people of this Sherpa village it is agreed that they will start filming on the mountain at the beginning of the climbing season in 2014. This follows a tense stand-off in 2013 after one of the tourist climbers swore at a Sherpa, which actually led to a fight in Base Camp. Everyone hopes that this will not happen again.

The film follows this one team effort as all the stuff is carried by yak and human (men and women) over the lower slopes; the camp is set up and the Australian tourist team that we are following go to another mountain to acclimatise for the next part of the climb. They do this to avoid crossing this ice field. Meanwhile the Sherpas set off up the mountain at night carrying the kit needed at the next camps. They do it at night because it is colder, once the sun comes up the ice flow becomes even more unstable and dangerous. Behind our team come several other Sherpa teams hired for other tourist teams. In the early morning of 18th April 2014, there is a massive ice-fall.  A 14 million ton of ice breaks off and begins an avalanche which sweeps everyone in its path off their feet. It readily becomes apparent that the loss of life is a mountain record, 16 Sherpas died.

Back at Base Camp a big rescue mission follows, so helicopters are brought in to collect the wounded and finally to winch the dead bodies off the mountain. Filmed from below it looks utterly merciless.

Several days follow while the bodies are collected, three Sherpas are missing. There is growing tension and anger on the Sherpa side and growing anxiety and frustration amongst the tourists.

On Day 5 after the accident, there is a massive row because the Sherpas have refused to go up the mountain any more that year. In spite of appeals to the Nepalese Government which results in better compensation, insurance and welfare for the Sherpas in general, the feeling among the Sherpas is that it would be disrespectful to the dead and to their families to walk across the graveyard of their companions; they are also understandably scared both of the mountain spirits and also the physical danger.

Unbelievably this is greeted badly by our tourists. On the whole, their reaction is so crass, especially one American, that the cinema audience laughed in disbelief and shock. Yes, they have paid significant sums to climb Everest. Yes, some of them have been disappointed before. Yes, it takes a lot of preparation to do this BUT…SIXTEEN PEOPLE DIED. Not one of them a tourist!

The fact that this means the Sherpas will earn no money this year is not an issue for them, they will not climb. It needs to be stressed that for every $75,000 paid by each tourist, each Sherpas earns in the region of $5,000, but only those that climb to the highest point earn that much. One third goes to the Nepalese Government.

Everyone has to go home because Everest is closed for the season. This is a salutary lesson. It is the Sherpas that make it possible for tourists to climb the mountain; they cross this dangerous ice field at least twenty times each simply so that the tourists can cross it safely once on the way up and once on the way down. A year in which sixteen died is a record, but ONE or TWO die nearly EVERY YEAR.

It should also be noted that before a change of heart by the government, the compensation offered to the families who had lost someone, was $400 which is not even enough for a ritual burial. This was changed as a result of the action and in the end it was raised considerably.

Climate change is making it even more dangerous. Furthermore, this year 2015, an earthquake in Nepal caused a huge avalanche which swept down the mountain through Base Camp – guess who was rescued by helicopter? THE TOURISTS!!!

Sherpa won the Grierson Award for Documentary Film

3000Then an emotional killer. 3000 Nights is a docudrama based on a true story about a Palestinian woman who becomes embroiled in the Israeli prison system because she picked up an injured boy in her car that they suspect is a terrorist. Mai Masri‘s film has an extraordinary cast of women and one amazing child. Layal played by Maisa Abd Elhadi is detained on very little evidence in Nablus Detention Centre. It has a mixed population of Israelis and Palestinians, the Israelis are mostly ordinary criminals – thieves, pick-pockets, drug dealers and prostitutes; the Palestinians are almost exclusively political.

The women prison officers are brutal. Totally devoid of humanity. This is a gripping, violent and powerful film that explores the relationships within the prison; between the women some of whom have a background that is difficult and complex; between some women and the guards; between the Israeli prisoners and the Palestinians and between the guards and the Israeli prisoners. There is both a sense of solidarity and also of betrayal, this the Israeli prison officers use to their advantage wherever possible.

After a spell in solitary confinement Layal discovers that she is pregnant, torn between her situation and the possibility of release she has to make a difficult decision, the prison authorities try to get her to have an abortion but she keeps the baby, a little boy she calls Nour. In spite of her condition and still on very little evidence, mainly because she says the injured boy did not threaten her when she took him in her car, she is sentenced to eight years.

A short time later, the Palestinians who are expected to cook for the prison guards, call a strike; subsequently in another incident a Palestinian women gets shot. This results in a shut-down, the women blockade the doors so that the guards cannot get in. In the end they bring in the army and use gas to break down the resistance.

Set in the 1980s, against the background of the Lebanon war, the Sabra and Shatila massacre and other world-shattering events, the Israelis have no regard for decency, generosity or leniency until twelve Israeli soldiers are captured, then and only then will they agree to an exchange of prisoners, Layal is not included.

Meanwhile as a punishment for her involvement in the strike the authorities take Nour away from his mother, for no better reason than that he is two years old…

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Filed under Culture, Environment, Film Review, Modern History, Politics, Select Cinema, Travel

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