The United Kingdom’s largest rural film festival opened in 20 venues coinciding with its 20th anniversary across the Powys border, returning after a two-year COVID 19 pandemic hiatus featuring many films on rural themes from many parts of the world. With 267 in-venue screenings, a total of 78 films were shown across this year’s festival.
But one notable film is “I am Belmaya” made by a very young film maker from Pokhra of Nepal that too from a Dalit community. Silenced and subjugated all her life, an educated young Dalit woman in Nepal takes up the movie camera to tell her story which makes “I am Belmaya.”
Against the snowy Annapurna Hills in the shadows of the Himalayas live a colourful hill folk. An underprivileged girl from this community, Belmaya Nepali was 14 when she caught the eye of journalist and photographer Sue Carpenter who saw in her the spark of the rebel. It is the uplifting story of how the camera made an orphaned, disadvantaged girl an independent woman and filmmaker just with the power of self- expression. She was teaching photography for a project at a children’s home when she took her first footage of young Belmaya peeking curiously into the lens and speaking out about how she would highlight injustices through photography, dancing, and playing Holi. Seven years passed but reconnected in 2014 when Belmaya had just embarked on her filmmaker training, this time with a cherubic little daughter strapped to her.
Says Sue, “I knew that she was a strong and charismatic character, outspoken about injustices and a natural feminist. However, there were many obstacles to smooth filming, because she was a mother…, and had a husband who was increasingly resentful about following own path, rather than doing as he said and being at home all the time.” Obviously, Sue was worried about her safety, but Belmaya
was “determined to continue with her work, and to stand up to her husband.” “This created a strong story line, with the adversity of her domestic situation threatening her goal for freedom and independence as a filmmaker.” The husband’s attitude oscillated and simmered, from resentment at being himself ‘made to be the wife’ (Belmaya’s headstrong attempts to divorce him are included in the film) to grudging suspicion and finally sheepish capitulation. At the Barefoot screening, the audience would often chortle at the young man’s tantrums.
Looking at her world through different angles was the catalyst in Belmaya’s education as a filmmaker. Her instructor would make her experiment with the tripod, sprawling on the ground to capture her cousin working in the chicken coop or looking down from high up at the modest dwellings where the living room, dining room and kitchen was all one. It was this play of perspectives that taught her her own worth and the unfairness of the male dominated society she had grown up in.
Her graduation film titled, ‘Educate Our Daughters’, highlighted that girls have a right to education, and that education can change everything. It was selected for seven international film festivals and won three awards. With it she was to go places. Under Sue and Belmaya’s joint direction ‘I am Belmaya’ also tells the story of Educating our daughters.
‘I Am Belmaya’, candid and touching, captures the poignancy of this plucky girl’s life, her father dead when young and a mentally unstable mother having slit her own throat with an axe, brought up in an orphanage, married off young and a mother before 19. For Sue the most touching moments were when the footage was translated, and she realized the inner strength Belmaya had developed.
Belmaya is one of the most likable people you could meet in a film and remains herself whether in London or Kathmandu, smiling with endearing stoicism. Strong and natural, she does break down sometimes but speaks out frankly and wipes her tears. She showed her film in schools around Nepal which “made a strong impact on the schoolgirls”, letting them know for the first time that there are endless possibilities- beyond those of marriage and childbirth. Sue says that “after seeing her film (they) have said they are inspired to stay in school and study hard and try and stand on their own feet before they go into marriage.”
Belmaya has also spoken twice at WOW (Women of the World) Festivals in Nepal and led an online filmmaking workshop. During the COVID lockdown Sue had online screenings of ‘I Am Belmaya’ around the UK and raised over £12,000 (one crore twenty lakh rupees )for some 30 charities working in Nepal, while also supporting Belmaya.
Source: Himalayan News Chronicle