PASANG: In the Shadow of Everest
(Nancy Svedson, Pasang Lhamu Sherpa, Dawa Futi Sherpa, Pemba Norbu Sherpa, Marc Batard, Jan Arnold, et. Al / NR / 1hr 11min / Mila Productions, Follow Your Dreams Foundation)
Overview: This riveting documentary tells the story of how, in 1993, Pasang Lhamu Sherpa stepped out from the shadow of societyís expectations and followed her passions to the top of Mount Everest, the highest peak in the world.
Verdict: Among the opening shots is throwback footage to a great parade of people through the streets of Katmandu, Nepalís capital city. Many carry flowers, and a photo of a clearly celebrated woman is carried atop a great cart for all of the people to see. Itís not until a few moments in that it becomes apparent that this is a funeral procession, and that the story about to be presented contains both triumph and tragedy.
The film is framed in an odd way, at least at first, focusing on Pasangís daughter and other members of her family speaking together in order to establish those details of her early life, rather than just the typical documentary talking head moments that eventually come into play.
Pasang was always a rebel, wanting to go to school when such a thing was only meant for Nepali boys, wanting to accompany her father on Himalayan trekking expeditions, and even breaking with tradition and eloping rather than being subject to an arranged marriage.
So it comes as little surprise that Pasang had dreams of climbing mountains even in spite of the fact that mountaineering was mostly a manís game at the time.
To this end, PASANG functions as more than just a look into the life of one extraordinary woman. Itís just as much a history and geography lesson. A considerable amount is made, for example, about the advent of the Himalayan mountaineering industry; that when Westerners began seeking to conquer the mountain, they began encroaching on the homes of the sacred Eastern gods. And Pasangís entire quest is juxtaposed against the civil unrest of late 1980s, early 1990s Nepal.
Itís much more fascinating than, perhaps, it sounds.
Footage is shown of Pasang honing her skills in France, with even more footage peppered in of the French mountaineers and others who accompanied her on her first, albeit unsuccessful Everest expedition.
That old adage ďIf at first you donít succeed, try, try againĒ certainly applied to Pasang, as her first two Everest expeditions left her close, but unable to reach the top of the world.
This second try, in 1991, was self-financed, and it made many question if Pasangís attempts tot scale Everest were merely a publicity stunt, particularly after these expeditions drained sixty percent of the business she and her husband owned.
But her fellow mountaineers refute this assertion, saying, ďYou donít go to Everest simply because someone tells you itís a good idea.Ē
At this point, the viewer may be wondering ó A) who would ever say going to Everest is a good idea; or, B) what would make a person want to go at all? But then again, pursuit of oneís dream may not always make sense from an outside perspective.
And thatís the real beauty of this story. Pasang didnít merely come to Everest because she thought it was a good idea. She came to win. And win she did. On April 22, 1993, Pasang Lhamu Sherpa became the first Nepali woman to summit Mount Everest.
But unfortunately, a bad turn of the weather and depleted oxygen supply would prevent Pasang from making it down the mountain to celebrate her triumph. Setting milestones even in death, Pasang became the first Sherpa whose body was retrieved from Everest, even though Sherpa account for one-third of Everestís dead.
As the film closes out, one more impressive stat is given concerning Pasang Lhamu Sherpa and her improbable journey into the history books: 65 Nepali women have climbed Everest in the years subsequent to her doing so.
The month of March is Womenís History Month, and it is an absolute travesty that Pasang Lhamu Sherpaís name is not among the women so readily celebrated as game-changers, because thatís what she was.
And in a way, itís that travesty of not knowing who she was before this film that makes it a film worth watching, even more so than the breathtaking views of the timeless beauty of Mount Everest.
Review: Ashley J Cicotte