A former West Hartford resident who saw the documentary about Lhakpa Sherpa’s record-setting achievements said the reception at the Toronto International Film Festival was unprecedented.
By Ronni Newton
Documentaries are often well-received at the Toronto International Film Festival, but the reaction to “Mountain Queen: The Summits of Lhakpa Sherpa” was unprecedented.
Anita Carpenter, who grew up in West Hartford but moved to Toronto five years ago, said she goes to TIFF every year and sees a number of films.
Carpenter, who has personally traveled to Nepal and Tibet, said she had briefly met Lhakpa Sherpa years ago. “She left a remarkable impression on me,” said Carpenter, so the documentary was a “don’t miss” at this year’s festival.
“She was applauded in a way I often don’t see,” Carpenter told We-Ha.com in a phone interview after seeing the film. While documentaries are popular at the festival, this one was sold out for all screenings. “During the screening people were clapping, screaming,” she said.
The film touches not only on Sherpa’s incredible physical accomplishments, but also many of the personal struggles she faced growing up in Nepal as one of 11 children where she was unable to obtain an education.
At the end of the film, there was a rousing standing ovation, Carpenter said. She said Sherpa, who along with her daughters Shiny and Sunny Dijmarescu, joined filmmaker Lucy Walker at the end of the film for a Q&A, was overwhelmed by the response. All answered plenty of questions from the audience.
“It’s such a moving film that chronicles Lhakpa’s record breaking summits on Everest. Her perseverance through countless personal struggles is nearly equal to her Olympian-level physical achievement,” Carpenter said.
While Walker, the director, called the film “a work in progress,” Carpenter, an immigration law clerk who has also previously worked as a talent promoter and publicist for musicians and other performers, said it seemed very complete and well put together, and the audience certainly loved it “as is.”
Carpenter said she was so pleased when she learned the documentary had been picked up by Netflix.
“Hands down, everyone agrees that she is a woman of extraordinary achievement. She deserves far more attention,” Carpenter said.
If Sherpa were an Olympic athlete or UConn sports stars, there would be parades, she said.
In a news release dated Sept. 17, the TIFF announced award recipients for its 48th festival. “Mountain Queen: The Summits of Lhakpa Sherpa” was named second runner-up in the 2023 People’s Choice Documentary Award category.
The version of the film Carpenter saw also features some scenes from West Hartford and the surrounding area – including a shot of the illuminated West Hartford sign opposite the I-84 Park Road exit.
In 2019, when she was celebrated as a “Wonder Woman” by Malta House of Care, Sherpa said she was putting off climbing that year due to the death of her father.
“My dad passed away, so I cannot go,” she told We-Ha.com in April 2019. “I feel I lost my energy, lost my balance, and I want to stay with my children this year.”
Sherpa, who is 49, has lived in West Hartford for more than 20 years, immigrating to the U.S. with her then-husband, a Romanian-American climber, whom she divorced in 2015 amid claims of assault. He was later convicted of breach of peace, and died in 2020.
Sherpa had obtained sole custody of her daughters and has raised them as a single mother.
In between expeditions, she has worked at Whole Foods in Bishops Corner, washing dishes. She also leads climbers through her business, Cloudscape Climbing, including on hikes throughout New England.
Her daughters have attended West Hartford Public Schools and her youngest, Shiny, then 15, accompanied her mother to Everest Base Camp in 2022 where the two posed with a Conard banner.
Sherpa said that her father, who was her hero, and teacher, always encouraged her. Surrounding herself with nature “makes me feel good,” she said, and even the snow leopards don’t scare her.
The COVID-19 pandemic interfered with her climbing plans in 2020 and 2021, but she was back on Everest in 2022, and already planning for a summit of K2, which she successfully completed late this July.
When she learned of Netflix acquiring the “Mountain Queen” documentary, Sherpa’s commented on social media: “This is truly an opportunity of a lifetime. I’m so grateful that my life story and message to all of the women in the world is finally going to be shared.”
Netflix, which states on its website that it plans to release the documentary globally in 2024, includes the following description of the film: “Lhakpa Sherpa was the first Nepali woman to completely summit and survive Mount Everest. For anyone else, that might be the greatest challenge and achievement of their life. For the unforgettable Lhakpa – the funny, no-nonsense, and fiercely determined subject of this extraordinary documentary – it was just the start.”
After climbing the world’s two highest mountains, Sherpa said on her Facebook page that next is Kanchenjunga, the third-highest peak, located in Nepal and India.