Dir.: Zara Balfour, Marcus Stephenson; Documentary; UK/Nepal 2018, 93 min.
This is a remarkable labour of love by first time writer/directors Zara Balfour and Marcus Stephenson. They have risked everything to accompany three teenagers from a boarding school in Kathmandu to their inaccessible mountain villages, where they meet parents and family for the first time in twelve years. Along with stunning images, they bring back passionate stories of loss and recovered identities.
Nima, Jeewan and Tsering are sixteen. They have spent the last twelve years in a Buddhist boarding school in Kathmandu, often wondering why their parents gave them away. They have more or less forgotten the hard life in the mountains, and acquired an educational standard unschooled families are unable to grasp. But before they get back to their villages, they have to endure a 14-hour bus ride, a long flight, and on top of it a steep climb in the mountains, taking up to ten days. Nima is looking forward to seeing his father, he has lost his mother and has already mourned her death. Jeewan’s father is a bee keeper, his mother taking care of the house and their local land. But Tsering has suffered most from the separation from her parents and is convinced they did not love her. The greatest disappointment is in store from Nima, who has developed a talent for poetry. He finds out from the rest of the family that his father is now an alcoholic, and has moved far away to another mountain region. Jeewan is particularly fond of his grand mother, and remembers her best. Tsering’s parents home is comfortable compared with the other families’ dwellings. While her mother runs the house, her father is a lama, and, like most men in these mountains villages, sits around with his chums and drinks tea all day long. Tsering’s mother was keen for her daughter to have a better life, and although Tsering is grateful she still criticises her mother for the lack of hygiene, but helps with some weeding in the garden, and later joins in the hunt for the Yarsagumba plant whose magic powers are considered “more precious than gold”.
While the get back to normal at home, Nepal is wrecked by an earthquake measuring 7.9 on the Richter scale. 9000 people are killed, 800 000 are made homeless. And when the three of them return to Kathmandu, they discover their school has partly been destroyed. This gives the students an opportunity to give back to the local community by helping other children who have been made homeless. Neema is now studying Travel and Tourism, whilst Jeewan has chosen Fashion Design, wanting later to employ local crafts people. Tsering is going to study law, to become a Human Rights lawyer on issues concerning the Himalayan communities.
Never sentimental or didactic, this is a moving and extraordinary journey on many levels, supported by stunning panoramic images of the towering mountains. AS
IN CINEMAS AND ON DEMAND FROM 14 MARCH 2019