Islamabad August, 2018: The Unknown Mountaineers written, directed, and produced by Shehrbano Saiyid, screened by the Pakistan International Film Festival (PIFF) in April 2018, has been selected by the Washington DC South Asian Film Festival (DCSAFF) and the Monthly Film Festival (TMFF) in Glasgow UK for screenings in September.
The film is about a group of aspiring women climbers from Shimshal, a remote valley in northern Pakistan. The documentary follows 18-year-old Hameeda Bibi and her friends who learnt technical high-altitude mountain-climbing from the men in their community, because their financial circumstances prevented them from going to school. These men work as porters and guides in mountain tourism which, along with agriculture, forms the economic backbone of Gilgit Baltistan. Shimshal is at an altitude of 10,000ft: with rugged terrain, single cropping, and little grazing ground near the villages, life is brutal, and breeds people with a natural capacity for high-altitude mountaineering.
The men scrape a living by risking their lives in one of the most dangerous sports in the world, but many have developed a passion for it, and inspired their women to follow their mountaineering dreams as well. Regular trainings make these dreams possible, but without the means, education, and sponsorship the women depend on subsistence farming and yak herding despite having set national records, including conquering a 20,000ft summit in the winter.
This film follows their expeditions while highlighting the harshness of their lives in these extreme climate and terrain conditions, the richness of their culture, poetry, music, the love of their ancestral lands and their pride in their long heritage of survival. It aims to give these eight Pakistani sherpa women in particular, as well as the featured Wakhi poets and musicians, the recognition they deserve.
It’s a story of strength, struggle and survival set in a breathtaking landscape about a people who dare to dream.
Shehrbano Saiyid is a Social Sciences graduate from the Lahore University of Management Sciences and has a Masters in Broadcast Journalism from Columbia University where she studied as a Fulbright Scholar. She is a freelance documentary filmmaker and was reporter/writer at Geo News, consultant at Aga Khan Rural Support Program based in Skardu, Gilgit Baltistan, and editorial head at Coke Studio.