Director Lucy Walker discusses Mountain Queen: The Summits of Lhakpa Sherpa

May 9, 2024 A Special Projects Documentary Series Screening

In 2000, Lhakpa Sherpa became 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 Lucy Walker's extraordinary documentary Mountain Queen: The Summits of Lhakpa Sherpa — it was just the start.

Walker's film takes a look at this single mother who survived an abusive marriage, brought up two daughters and worked as a dishwasher, while having another life as record-breaking mountain climber. Mountain Queen: The Summits of Lhakpa Sherpa, was a nominee for the People’s Choice Award at the 2023 Toronto International Film Festival.

On May 9, after the Special Projects Committee Documentary Series screening in Los Angeles, Walker discussed the making of the film during a Q&A moderated by Special Projects Documentary Series Subcommittee Chair Ondi Timoner (Last Flight Home).

During the conversation she revealed that it wouldn’t have been possible to capture Lhakpa’s summit of Mount Everest without the collaborative efforts of her directorial team and the high-altitude cinematographer and Sherpas who were a part of the expedition.

“It’s really dangerous. You can’t expect anyone to summit Everest, you can only try to find the right person and really support them and really empower them. But I had no idea what was going to be possible. Even if you’re really experienced, altitude is really gnarly, and you always have to say, ‘safety first.’ Nothing’s remotely worth compromising safety, so you don’t know what’s going to happen. We were so lucky. But also, I was really excited to give cameras to the Sherpas on her team and see what they come up with, train them, explain what you want and empower them to spot what they can. It was really thrilling to see everybody’s shots up there. And we got some beautiful, amazing, amazing stuff.”

Walker also spoke to the less dangerous stakes of being a documentary filmmaker.

“As a documentary filmmaker, there are moments, and if you miss them, you don’t get them back. I don’t care if the lights are on, frankly, get the sound! That moment when [Lhakpa’s daughter Sunny] says, ‘You inspire me. It’s so many steps up that mountain.’ I was like, ‘Oh my god. Thank you!’ And then that moment when she’s in the hotel room, she kept blossoming. It was this amazing thing. And you’re in the editing room and I had to dig into the kids’ arcs. The kids’ arcs can build the story to the next level.”

Walker’s other directorial credits include the documentary features Of Night and Light: The Story of Iboga and Ibogaine, Bring Your Own Brigade and Buena Vista Social Club: Adios; episodes of the documentary mini-series How to Change Your Mind; and episodes of the documentary series Independent Lens. She was nominated for the DGA Award Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Documentary for her 2014 film, The Crash Reel. Walker has been a member of the DGA since 1995 and serves as a member of the Guild's Documentary Committee.


Q&A photos by Elisa Haber – Print courtesy of Netflix

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