Writer-director Jennifer Peedom was in her tent at the base camp at Mount Everest when the avalanche struck last month, killing 16 Nepali guides.
An experienced climber, she was about 2km from the devastation but heard the noise. The Sherpas who had been hired for the Everest expedition she had planned to film were in the ice fall when the avalanche happened above the base camp.
Fortunately none was killed or injured, but Peedom quickly realised the subject and tone of the feature documentary she was shooting had changed dramatically.
With the working title Sherpa: In the Shadow of the Mountain, the film had intended to follow an Everest expedition from the viewpoints of the Sherpas and their sometimes uneasy relationships with foreign climbers.
Subsequently the climbing season was cancelled as the Sherpas made demands on the government for compensation and insurance.
“We knew this was the story we had to cover,” says Peedom, who spent the next few weeks interviewing Sherpas, expedition team leaders, Western climbers, reps of the tour companies and government officials.
“There was a lot of tension and confusion as well as disappointment among those who were not able to climb the mountain.
“Our documentary will put into sharp focus the dangers the Sherpas face. Going through that ice flow is like playing Russian roulette. The Western climbers do it twice on each expedition but Sherpas go through it 30 times.”
Felix Media's Bridget Ikin and John Maynard are co-producing the film with John Smithson of London-based Arrow Media, who produced Touching the Void and 127 Hours.
The filmmakers had intended to follow Phurba Tashi, who aimed to become the world record-holder for Everest summits, and Yangjee Doma Sherpa, a young woman who was about to embark on her first Everest climb.
The crew accompanied the two Sherpas as they returned to their family homes in the village of Khumjung.
Peedom’s crew consisted of three DoPs, Aussie Hugh Miller and two high-altitude cinematographers from the US, Renan Ozturk and Ken Sauls, and sound recordist Nick Edmond. Sound designer Sam Petty spent time at the base camp.
She now faces months in the editing room and says she won’t deliver the doc until the end of this year or early 2015.