The Films That Changed My Life: Jennifer Peedom

April 5, 2016
With her acclaimed documentary Sherpa in cinemas now, director Jennifer Peedom shares five films that personally and professionally shaped her.

indoINDOCHINE (1992)

“Other than the fact that it’s breathtakingly beautiful and Catherine Deneuve is so exotic, it’s just such an exotic film about cultures colliding. I was still in high school when I saw the film, and probably as a result of seeing it, I travelled through South East Asia, and I’ve been to those beautiful mountains coming out of the water. It inspired me to travel to these exotic and politically complex places. That film is about political change and the end of an era of colonialism, and I’m interested in these ideas. It was romantic and emotional too. I must have seen it at the Electric Shadows in Canberra where I grew up.”

Killing-FieldsTHE KILLING FIELDS (1984)

“This one I remember distinctly watching on VHS at home and it was right before I went out with a bunch of friends. I was always a deep thinker as a kid and I love these kind of films. It just made me so angry that people could be so bad and evil. I remember just sitting there and crying my eyes out and being too upset to go out that night. It really left an impression on me, and as depressing and sad as it was, it was just inspiring; that out of the depths of that kind of despair, there can be humanity.

“I found those powerful ideas and again it inspired me to travel. When I finished high school, I went and lived in Panama for a year and I travelled through South America, and I went to places like Cuba. I travelled for many months on end through South East Asia. I think the seeds of me being a documentarian were sown, even though I went off and did a business degree when I finished school. Those experiences really fed me and luckily I jumped out of the world of business and dove into the world of filmmaking.

“When I lived in Panama, I went as an exchange student almost. Although I finished high school and taught English, I just kind of lived in these places. I’d travel, and often alone or with one friend. I was quite intrepid and fearless in a way that terrifies me now when I think of the crazy things I did on my own or the situations I got myself into. Nothing bad ever happened, thank god, but I was risking things. But I was fearless and yearning for deep experiences. I came out relatively unscathed. I think you learn about yourself in those situations.”

Grizzly-Man_610GRIZZLY MAN (2005)

“I love Werner Herzog, and I thought this film was an extraordinary character piece. Back in 2008, I made a film called Solo, and this was a really important reference for that film. Just to look at character and why people do extreme things. It was a really important film for me at that time, and it was just incredibly well done, and a really odd, unusual film.”

151127touching-the-voidTOUCHING THE VOID (2003)

“I watched that film at a media screening. It’s a documentary but it’s also a movie. I love that it’s successful on those two fronts. They tried to make it as a drama for years, and the reason that the script didn’t work is that no one believed it. It was so unbelievable that in actual fact it had to be told by the people who survived it. I saw that film three days before I went to Everest to work on my first Everest documentary. So it was just a moment in time that was really significant to me, and of course it was produced by John Smithson who ended up producing Sherpa.”

Sonita-Rokhsareh-Ghaem-Maghami-e1448985237352SONITA (2015)

“I saw this amazing film just last week at the True/False Film Festival in Columbia, Missouri. It’s a great example in terms of ethics and responsibility of filmmakers, and where you cross the line and don’t. It’s about this young Afghani refugee living in Iran. Her parents are trying to sell her as a child bride, and she’s this unbelievably talented rapper. She raps poetically about her anger at not being allowed to be educated, and her anger at being sold as a child bride. But what’s fascinating about that film, other than just her brutal talent, is the relationship she has with the filmmakers. What I love about it is how transparent they are about their ethical dilemmas within the filmmaking process, because they start to intervene. She directly asks the filmmakers: ‘Well, if I’m for sale, why can’t you buy me? Why can’t you save me from this fate of being sold to some 60-year-old man as his third bride? Why can’t you buy me?’ And it deals with that in such an amazing way, which I think is just so brave, and it’s such a brilliant film.”

Sherpa is in cinemas now, and we spoke to Jennifer Peedom about that documentary in-depth here.

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