As with all spheres of national life that make up our social and cultural fabric, Nepal’s film industry has also been hit hard. Cinemas are closed, shooting has stopped, and there is even less investment in new movies.
As with the global film industry, Nepali producers are also disseminating directly through YouTube and other streaming platforms. Film festivals are being held online.
The Kathmandu International Mountain Film Festival (KIMFF) took place virtually from 10-14 December and had 300 entries this year, out of which 12 films were chosen for the Nepal Panorama and 18 for the international competition.
“Because we went virtual, many people outside Nepal were able to see the films, and the number of entries was surprisingly high even given the times we’re in,” KIMFF director Ramyata Limbu told Nepali Times.
“If you can’t get people to the hall in terms of logistics and time, doing festivals online in this multimedia era would make it more accessible for people who don’t have the time or inclination to make it to the theatres,” says Limbu. “The more accessible we can make it, the more people will take the time to view independent films.
A selection of notable films from 2020:
Nishon Shakya’s, documentary which premiered at KIMFF, follows elderly cremator Gyan Bahadur, who is nearing the end of his professional life at the Bhasmeshwar ghat at Pashupati. Gyan Bahadur’s narration of his life is accompanied by powerful visuals of cremations at Pashupati. Caution: Viewer Discretion Advised. Shakya is uncompromising in his visuals of the dead, in a way a macabre reminder of the times we live in.
Gyan Bahadur cremates the dead, a cigarette held tight between his lips, discusses politics, offers medical advice, and tells the story of his life. Having himself lost two of his sons in their childhood, Gyan Bahadur says he makes money off other people’s losses. At times, he is scathing about the living, who like to send off their dead with style but have no words of kindness to the people who help them pass on. Surrounded by mortality, he speaks matter-of-factly about his own death, accepting that he will eventually find his way back to Pashupati and move on from this world the same way he helped countless others.
Filmed in the throes of the Covid-19 lockdown, LSM’s (Sailesh RC) relevant short film captures a young man’s increasing agitation as he searches for food in his room on the 33rd day of the shutdown. In the barely furnished space, surrounded by empty food containers and an empty wallet, he doesn’t find any. And so, he must settle for anything that he can find within the space that he can move in.
The brevity of the film works in its favour — there are no unnecessary drawn-out scenes that attempt to force more meaning or gravitas to the story. There are no dialogues, no angry soliloquies, not one word from the protagonist. The film doesn’t need them. There is just weariness and resignation.
Come Over for a Drink, Kanchhi
Sikuma Rai’s documentary played at the Pame Film Festival, NHRIFF, and KIMFF. Come over for a drink, Kanchhi is a deeply personal narrative of the Rai women of Bhojpur for whom alcohol is woven into the fabric of their daily lives. The women sing and smile and drink in groups throughout the film, even as they hold immense sadness within themselves. Weathered by the loss of children and loved ones to disease and suicide, they make and drink alcohol to deal with grief and trauma. Because alcohol is as much a part of ceremony and celebration as much as melancholy, the women are not apologetic about drinking.
“There is a big hole in my heart,” says one of the women, who all suffer from depression. In a country where mental health is stigmatised, the film shines a light on how people deal with depression in rural areas.
The Snow Leopards Calling
Tshiring Lhamu Lama was inspired to work for the conservation of snow leopards when she saw how the endangered Himalayan cats were tortured and poisoned by locals in Dolpo in retaliation for killing their livestock. Sonam Choekyi Lama’s award-winning short documentary is the story of her sister Tshring’s drive and determination to save and protect a part of her world through snow leopard conservation. Tshiring treks across the freezing, harsh but stunning winter landscape of Phoksundo to capture the movement of Snow Leopards, recognising the importance of the footage for conservation as well as much-needed tourism in the area.
The film includes heartbreaking footage of snow leopards being dragged by their tails and kicked by locals into holes in the ground. However, Tshiring’s joy and enthusiasm at having captured snow leopards on film end the visually beautiful documentary on a hopeful, optimistic note.
Bare Trees in the Mist
Filmmaker Rajan Kathet’s Bare Trees in the Mist made its rounds in festivals around the world, including Toronto in 2019, South Korea, Turkey, Italy, the UK, Finland and India before being screened at home during KIMFF 2020. In this stunning drama, Kaali’s son informs his mother that a neighbour’s husband has returned from abroad bearing gifts for the two of them. Kaali, whose own husband has left home telling his wife that he’s going to Arab (“Which Arab?” her neighbour’s husband asks. Kaali doesn’t know) makes the journey to visit them.
Kaali’s tense yet hopeful wait in silence, the choice of aspect ratio, everything adds to the film’s atmosphere, underlying urgency and anxiety of the protagonists.
In Eelum Mani Dixit’s film, the eponymous Babu finds his village and home torn apart by the 2015 earthquake that takes the life of his mother, and takes his desperate father away to India in search for work. A story of three generations of men in post-earthquake Nepal, the film brims with a young boy’s anger and heartbreak, a father’s helplessness, and a grandfather’s sorrow.
Dixit packs a lot of emotion into subtle gestures throughout the film, like when Babu’s father hands him sweets before he leaves for India. Or when Babu gives a marble to the girl he likes-- someone he is probably never going to see again-- as she and her family move away to India. And especially when Babu buys his grandfather, with whom he has a tumultuous relationship, a pen for his journal with the money he had painstakingly saved up working to bring his father back home sooner.
The film is not only emblematic of the mass exodus of Nepali men and women to foreign lands, but also a look at how out-migration can be a ‘trend’ that turns working-class Nepalis into hard-bitten cynics unwilling to work their own land, even when it is available and possible.
Song of Clouds
Ankit Poudel’s film is an ethereal, empathetic, abstract story of life and death shifting from this world to the next as the dead communicate with the living they leave behind. Described as a fever dream, there is no plot or narrative structure to the film. There are long stretches of silence punctuated by sudden disjointed communications about regret and longing. A story without direction or an end told through still photographs.
Premiering at Sundance earlier this year and making rounds in festival circuits around the world, Poudel’s film has garnered multiple awards, including the Grand Prix at the Split Film festival in Croatia and the Best Fiction award in Nepal Panorama at KIMFF 2020.
The Winter Tap
In the hills of Sankhwasabha, a young man has undertaken the solo task of building a water tap that will take water right to his home during the dry winter. Working methodically in silence, he cuts bamboo into pipes and tree branches to prop up the bamboo against. He then cuts strips out of some more bamboo and ties the pipe and the branches to make a long and winding canal wrapped around the hills.
As with Day 33, words are unnecessary, the only sound is the wind blowing across the hills as the man lays his bamboo pipe, the rhythmic thwack of his khukuri as he cuts branches to support his canal, and the final, musical sound of the water flowing through the pipes toward his home. Simple, meaningful, and immensely satisfying, this film by Aashish Limbu and Debin Rai won Best student film at Film South Asia 2019 and was screened during KIMFF 2020.
The Big-headed Boy
The Big-Headed Boy, Shamans & Samurais was screened at the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam this November. Made by Pooja Gurung and Bibhusan Basnet, award-winning creative minds behind The Contagious Apparitions of Dambarey Dendrite and Dadyaa, the black-and-white travelogue is an account of the filmmakers’ quest to find an actor for their movie. When they do find an actor, the village Shaman is reluctant to let him go.
Shristi Karki is a correspondent with Nepali Times. She joined Nepali Times as an intern in 2020, becoming a part of the newsroom full-time after graduating from Kathmandu University School of Arts. Karki has reported on politics, current affairs, art and culture.