5th Episode: Movie on the House
“Pasang: In The Shadow Of Everest”
On April 20, 2023, the Institute for Integrated Development Studies (IIDS) held yet another successful chapter of its monthly “Movie On The House (MOTH)” initiative. Coinciding with the auspicious occasion of Mother's Day, the screening of "Pasang: In the Shadow of Everest" paid a touching tribute to Pasang Lhamu Sherpa, the first Nepalese woman to summit Mount Everest, and the late mother of esteemed guest Amb. Dawa Futi Sherpa, who was accompanied by the director of the movie, Ms. Nancy Svendsen.
"Pasang: In the Shadow of Everest" is a compelling documentary that chronicles the remarkable journey of Pasang Lhamu Sherpa, who made history as the first Nepali woman to summit Mount Everest in 1993. Pasang's quest was not only a personal one but also a symbol of empowerment for an uneducated, indigenous woman in a community of predominantly male mountaineers. The documentary explores the immense challenges Pasang faced, including societal barriers, opposition from foreign climbers, resistance from her own government, and the treacherous nature of the mountain itself. Her pursuit of Everest unfolds against the backdrop of Nepal's struggle for democracy and the growth of commercial climbing.Through firsthand accounts from those who knew her, acclaimed alpinists, and Pasang herself, the film paints a vivid picture of her courageous journey. Pasang's triumph not only captivated her nation but also served as an inspiration for a new generation.
The screening was followed by an interactive question-answer session with the audience including students from Tribhuvan University, scholars, graduates and journalists from various media outlets. The event was led and moderated by Mr. Samar SJB Rana, Senior Research Assistant.
“Risk is gendered”
Dr. Pyakurel initiated the interactive session by sparking a discussion, reflecting on Amb. Dawa Futi Sherpa's remark during the movie's official premiere, emphasising the notion that “Risk is gendered.” Amb. Dawa Futi Sherpa highlighted the historical tendency to glorify and celebrate men as heroes for taking risks, while women who do the same often face relentless questioning and harsh criticism. She emphasised the stark double standards that persist, wherein men are rarely subjected to questions regarding the challenges of balancing work and home life or the emotional toll of leaving their families behind to pursue their dreams. In contrast, women frequently encounter guilt and societal pressures that continually cast doubt on their choices and aspirations. Pasang's journey to become the first Nepali woman to conquer Mount Everest faced numerous obstacles, including struggles for funding and well-documented milestones. However, her accomplishment was met with scepticism, primarily due to the absence of a photograph at the summit. Amb. Sherpa identifies this doubt as stemming from gender bias, highlighting the societal tendency to subject women's achievements to heightened scrutiny and perpetuate stereotypes that undermine their capabilities.
Making of the Documentary
When asked about the challenges of creating the movie, director Nancy Svendsen acknowledged the scarcity of footage depicting Pasang's journey and childhood. Despite having little to no expectations and admitting her own naivety, Svendsen remained passionate about sharing Pasang's story with the world. She revealed that Pasang's brother, Dorjee Futi Sherpa, had initially aimed to create the film in collaboration with two directors from California back in 1997. Interview clips featuring Amb. Sherpa's father, grandparents, and Pasang's younger self were extracted from that project. Additionally, climbers who had used Pasang's agency possessed VHS tapes of her, adding to the available footage. Gathering the necessary materials and conducting interviews became a lengthy process, involving reaching out to individuals who had connections to those who knew Pasang. Alongside the film's footage, the title itself underwent an eight-year evolution. Despite concerns raised by an audience member about potential negative connotations, "Pasang: In the Shadow of Everest" aptly reflects Pasang's literal geographical background as she resided in Khumbu, located in the shadow of Everest.
Pasang Lhamu Mountaineering Foundation
During the discussion, Amb. Sherpa was questioned about the transformations observed in mountaineering since Pasang Lhamu Sherpa's time. Notably, Nepali women have made remarkable strides in mountaineering, with notable examples like Dawa Yangzum Sherpa, the first Nepali mountaineer and the youngest Rolex ambassador. Moreover, technological advancements over the past two decades have greatly facilitated rescue operations, offering a safety net for climbers facing adverse weather conditions, such as Pasang's decision to bivouac. Despite these significant changes, Amb. Sherpa believes that deep-seated societal beliefs persist. This conviction fuels her involvement as the President of the Pasang Lhamu Mountaineering Foundation, where she strives to promote women's empowerment and provide free vocational and guide training. When asked if she aspired to pursue mountaineering like her mother, Amb. Sherpa revealed that her personal goals and ambitions differ but acknowledged that mountaineering will always hold a significant place in her life. Actively supporting women mountaineers through the Pasang Lhamu Mountaineering Foundation allows her to honour her mother's legacy and contribute to the advancement of women in the field.
The event summary was prepared by Tanushri Gauchan, research intern, IIDS