Developing a film programme on Nepali Women Filmmakers for the Cinema of Ideas

Aagya Pradhan, 16 March 2022

Our FEDS Trainee Scheme offers participants a ten-month long paid traineeship in the exhibition sector, as well as mentoring and expert industry advice. In this blog we hear from Aagya Pradhan, a current trainee based at HOME in Manchester, about developing the Hamro Katha Programme on the Cinema of Ideas online platform.

When I started my FEDS traineeship, I wasn’t really expecting to do any programming. My placement at HOME in Manchester was more focused around event production which suited me as it is an area I was keen to gain more experience in. I attended programming meetings and also learned more about the process through Industry Sessions, but again didn’t really see any opportunity to try it out for myself until we were given an opportunity to pitch something to programme for the Cinema of Ideas.

My idea for the programme was partly inspired by the documentary I Am Belmaya (Dirs. Sue Carpenter and Belmaya Nepali). Undercut with scenes shot by Belmaya, and featuring her own narration, the documentary provides an intimate insight into her life and her journey to becoming a filmmaker. It was the first time I had seen a Nepalese film in the mainstream and more importantly a film centred on a Nepali woman. When provided with the opportunity to plan something for the Cinema of Ideas, I thought a programme of films spotlighting Nepali women filmmakers would be the right place to start.

Stronger (dir. Belmaya Nepali)

Coming up with the idea proved to be one of the easier parts of this process as I found the research to be quite tricky. There were not many identifiable films or directors that came up when you searched ‘Nepali Female Filmmakers’ and a lot of the content, instead, pointed towards social initiatives for young women to learn filmmaking. The one thing that did stand out was a Facebook group, eponymously titled ‘Nepali Female Filmmakers’, co-founded by filmmakers Shanta Nepali, Prasna Dongol and Rajeela Shrestha. In an interview with The Kathmandu Post, Nepali states that the group was created to provide a safe and supportive environment for the upcoming generation of female filmmakers in Nepal. After many dead-ends, finding the group felt like a stroke of luck and it was amazing to be able to collaborate with them to build the programme.

We started by creating an open call for films which was shared with the group, their wider networks and film schools based in/around Kathmandu. This led onto (probably) the most exciting part of the programming process: watching the films. I didn’t have a particular vision in mind of what the programme would look like, which might not be the most proactive approach, but it was helpful in allowing me to keep an open mind. I was slightly disappointed that we didn’t get as many narrative/fiction submissions as I wanted more variety in the genre of films but I think it worked out in the end given the strength of the stories presented.

Pahichan (dir. Yajaswi Rai)

Our final programme features six films: two fiction titles, Chandra and Hajur, three documentaries, Come Over For A DrinkKanchiiPahichan, and Period: A State of Purity and a music video, Stronger. All of the films, bar Chandra, place Nepali women at the centre of their stories, capturing their lived experiences and exploring the impact of cultural and societal pressures. Take Hajur (dirs. Pinki Srs Rana and LSM), for example, which follows Sarita, a young mother, who is approaching a turning point in her career but feels tied down by the expectations of her role as a mother and a wife. The film provides an interesting and contemporary take on the difficulties many women face in trying to manage this balance, between having a successful career and running a home, particularly at a time when those responsibilities co-exist in the same spaces.

Come over for a drink, Kanchii (dir. Sikuma Rai)

Likewise, Sikuma Rai’s documentary Come Over For A Drink, Kanchii, confronts and challenges popular narratives in Nepal about Rai indigenous women and their experiences with alcohol dependency. It is empathetic in its portrayal of the women’s stories and considers wider societal factors at play that often influence the use of alcohol within their communities. A different, and more musical, approach can be found in the original song and video of Stronger which promotes an important and aspirational message of wanting to break free from societal rules and live authentically. The video for Stronger was also directed by Belmaya Nepali and as my ideas were in part inspired by seeing her story it felt very fitting to include in the programme.

Now that the programme was taking shape, the next step was to plan the accompanying event. This was one of the aspects I was more sure about as I thought a Q&A would be the best approach to generate discussions and hear directly from the filmmakers about their films and their experiences of working within the Nepalese film industry. It was important for me to not be passive in programming their work and provide opportunities, where possible, for the filmmakers to lead the conversation.

With that in mind, we welcomed Prasna Dongol, a filmmaker herself and one of the co-founders of the Nepali Female Filmmakers group, to host the Q&A. We had a great turnout from the filmmakers with 6 out of 7 directors attending even with the time difference which meant they had to stay awake past midnight. The Q&A was very insightful with all the filmmakers having an opportunity to talk about their films, expand on the process of making them, and engage with wider conversations about the Nepali film scene. There were also some interesting questions about filmmaking as activism and audience responses to the films, especially with titles like Come Over For A Drink, Kanchii which addresses culturally taboo topics. I was initially worried we would not be able to host the Q&A due to the time differences so it was a great feeling to see everything run smoothly. I hope that for audiences who did watch the films and joined the Q&A the experience was helpful in allowing them to learn more about contemporary Nepalese film and culture, as well as the talented filmmakers part of the programme.

Hamro Katha: Showcasing Nepali Women Filmmakers is available to stream on the Cinema of Ideas online platform until 17th March, 2022.