Home Reviews Sheffield DocFest review: Mountain Queen: The Summits of Lhakpa Sherpa by Lucy...

Sheffield DocFest review: Mountain Queen: The Summits of Lhakpa Sherpa by Lucy Walker 

Mountain Queen: The Summits of Lhakpa Sherpa

The incredible story of Lhakpa Sherpa, directed by Lucy Walker and screening on Netflix from July 31, will undoubtedly attract the attention of Hollywood, but any future filmmakers will have their work cut out as this documentary paints an almost perfect literal and metaphorical picture of an epic journey to the top of the world.

Lhakpa Sherpa (who explains that every Sherpa has the same surname, the first name indicating the day of the week on which he or she was born) is a dream character. 

Lively, funny, wise, strong, insightful, humble and incredibly strong, both physically and mentally. She comes up with cracking one-liners, is a beacon of positivity and has an enviable ability to put things into perspective. And she has an extraordinary story to tell.

The film posits the viewer straight onto the mythical Mount Everest, the film’s other formidable protagonist, which Lhakpa is attempting to conquer for the tenth time (this time with her family) more than two decades after her first successful ascent. This journey, undertaken with one of her daughters, has a special meaning for her, as we learn throughout the film. It is an affirmation of her strength and perseverance. After a life of hardship and challenge, she has come out on top.

As we follow the team to the Roof of the World, taking in the breathtaking views and watching the small group battle through freezing winds, snow, lack of oxygen and exhaustion, we also learn about Lhakpa’s life (she was born on a Wednesday). Videos and photographs of her early years show a determined young girl with an extreme love of the outdoors and physical challenges. She defied an unspoken rule of the Sherpa community: for a girl to join the expeditions. So she cut her hair to pass as a boy. Without complaining, she carried 100 kilos on her back, earning the respect of her male colleagues and breaking records along the way (including becoming the first woman to climb Everest). 

We also see her in the United States, where she earns a living working at Whole Foods and caring for her two daughters, the result of a turbulent relationship that is another cleverly interwoven storyline that keeps you on the edge of your seat. The development of the romance between Lakhpa and the only man who could keep up with her is fed to the audience in deliberately measured doses. The footage of their repeated conquests of Everest is an apt metaphor for their relationship – it is hard, unpredictable, physically demanding, but also euphoric, exhilarating and beautiful.

We also meet their two daughters, Sunny and Shiny, both struggling in their own way with their unusual upbringing. Sunny joins her mother on her expedition to Tibet, but Shiny needs to distance herself in order to appreciate who her mother really is.  

Filmmaker Lucy Walker really takes you into the life and soul of Lhakpa and her family. She manages to turn all the footage and storylines into both a psychological thriller and an ode to the unimaginable power of Lakpha and the cruel splendour of Everest. It is feminist without trying to be, and also gives an insight into the close-knit Sherpa community and life in the camps on Mount Everest. The spectacular cinematography (which makes you respect DOP’s even more) sweeps you of your feet and transports you to an otherwise unattainable world. If this film doesn’t uplift, move and empower you, I’m afraid nothing will.

Mountain Queen: The Summits of Lhakpa Sherpa receives its European premiere in the Journeys strand of Sheffield DocFest on June 15.

USA, Tibet 111 minutes
Director: Lucy Walker
Executive Producers: Sidney Kimmel, Brian Kornreich, Jo Henriquez, Scott Ratner, Amani King, Lucy Walker
Producers: Charlie Corwin, Michael D. Ratner, Miranda Sherman, Dalia Burde, Christopher Newman
Music: Nikolaj Hess, Adam Peters, Michael Sterns
Cinematography: Matthew Irving, Aaron Phillips, Devin Whetstone
Editing: David Brodie, Yaniv Elani, Carlos Haynes, Davon Ramos, Tyler Temple Higgins, Inaya Graciana Yusuf
Art Design: Sky Bird, June Cho
Sound Design: Tom Paul
Production Companies: SK Global Entertainment, OBB Pictures, Avocados and Coconuts
International sales: SK Global