KIMFF-Going on Tall and Strong like the Mountains It Talks About

What do adventure, culture, religion and snow have in common? Here’s a clue- it begins with an ‘M’ and ends somewhere about 8848 m above sea level. Mountains have shared an intricate relationship with human beings from their effect on the geography of their being to their effect on aesthetic activity. While human beings have explored, probed, reached and ‘conquered’ mountains or parts of them, they still stand among us- vast, obscure, enigmatic and even intimidating. However, if the mention of mountains were in our prayer flags during ancient times, they are now in little guidebooks for tourists, in a trekker’s bag pack, a voyeur’s blog, or on a painter’s canvas. Our relationship with the mountains is getting woven into more complex patterns as the tapestry elongates. Kathmandu International Mountain Film Festival (KIMFF) has been examining these patterns and celebrating its diversity since the year 2000.

KIMFF

KIMFF, organized by the Himal Association, started out as a non-competitive film festival held every two years. Since the year 2006, the festival promised to happen annually. Today it serves as a melting pot for the likes of filmmakers, activists, journalists, critics and both film and mountain enthusiasts. A non-profit organization, it has had four film festivals to its credit that involved alpine documentation, archival footage, adventure cinema, experimental shorts, commentaries, anthropological narratives, and feature films to name a few. To date, it has explored mountains, its community and their culture to bring about films that portray and deal with issues as far and broad as cultural practices, lifestyles, conflict, wildlife, mountain-climbing, environment, globalization, and gender. KIMFF screens films, organizes workshops, lectures and discussion forums and photo and book exhibitions related to mountains.

KIMFF does not just intend to provide a platform for filmmakers; its mission is far more broad and versatile. With the belief that ‘human experience in the world’s highlands, especially those in developing countries, is worth documenting and sharing’ KIMFF intends to put forward the reality of these communities, culture and thus create a sense of understanding and significance. It intends to see development and social transformation through the use of films and thus the exposure.

Every year, KIMFF invites filmmakers to enter the competition for the film festival. This year they received 240 entries from 52 countries. A 10-member jury has been viewing the films and 45-50 of the best films will make it to the next round. The directors of the best three movies are to be awarded $1500, $1000 and $500 respectively. The Nepal Panorama winner takes home Rs. 25000.The list is due this October. We all wait eagerly.

Verse talked to Ms. Ramyata Limbu, the director of KIMFF since 2000 about KIMFF and her experience as a filmmaker. She has co-produced the independent documentary ‘Daughters of Everest’ and ‘The Sari Soldiers’, a documentary feature that follows six Nepali women on the forefront of the Maoist conflict in Nepal.

Who or what inspired you to join filmmaking?

As a professional journalist I learnt about different issues. I like travelling, researching and learning. Thus, it was actually a natural progression from print journalism to filmmaking.

What do you think about the documentary making scene here? Just give us an overview?

Since the past decade, filmmaking has grown over time due to cheap technology like the internet and camera. Younger people are getting into filmmaking out of interest and passion rather than because they have the skills to do so. It is important to have passion but it is equally important to have the technical know-how to really make a difference.

Tell us about your experiences as a female filmmaker.

I don’t think gender really affects filmmaking. However, as a woman, I identify with subjects of women. It was why I decided to follow women who were on their way to climb Everest for a documentary. It was also why I focused on women during the conflict in my other documentary.

Travelling KIMFF

Along with the upcoming KIMFF 2011 (8-12 December), the organization with the cooperation and the support of Embassy of Finland and Federation of Nepalese Journalists district chapters also have organised the Travelling KIMFF this year. The Travelling KIMFF plans to visit different towns in Nepal including Panchthar, Ilam, Myagdi, Nawalparasi, Arghakanchi, Dadeldhura, Baitadi, Doti and Kailali. The idea for travelling KIMFF is to encourage intercultural interaction and sensitivity towards the need to preserve the mountain community, essence and the cultural diversity.

Verse talked to Mr. Basanta Thapa, chairperson of KIMFF about the Travelling KIMFF. Basanta Thapa, also a Board member of the Himal Association has headed the organization since 1998. He is a former editor of the Himal bimonthly and a former columnist for Himal Khabarpatrika, the Nepali fortnightly.

First of all, tell us about your experience with KIMFF, and its progress since it was last conceived.

KIMFF has grown in size and stature since 2000. We have shifted our venue from the Russian Culture Center to bigger venues like the auditorium of the Nepal Tourism Board. The ancillary activities like workshops, exhibitions, lectures also draw a lot of people. We generally have a full house.

In these years we see more Nepali viewers than foreigners, when it used to be the expats and tourists who used to outnumber Nepali viewers before. It is good to see that the interest in Nepali people is growing. Our target is the youth, so we send out invitations to colleges and schools. We also receive a lot of interest from outside the country. Last year we had 61 countries plus Nepal participating.

The experience is gratifying because we had a very modest beginning.  Our biggest obstacle was and still is funding. We have no permanent sponsors therefore every event requires starting afresh with searches for sponsors. In other countries, the government forces help cultural events like these which is not so, unfortunately in the case of Nepal. Perhaps it is our inability to convince the government that films can be a good means to educate people. We are passionate about KIMFF, which is why all of us are doing it voluntarily. Our commitment is due to the belief that it can only grow, drawing inspiration from our previous performances.

Two years ago we were featured in Time magazine. Also, we were recruited to the Finland Mountain Film Alliance. This recognition is indeed very gratifying.

How did the Travelling KIMFF happen?

We did not want to be Kathmandu centric. We decided to put all the best films or even just the relevant ones in a package, looked for funding and set out.

How is it different from the usual KIMFF viewers or simply, the viewers in Kathmandu?

We have been instrumental to many Nepali documentary makers. Also, we have a group of ardent viewers in Kathmandu. The regular faces always turn up. In the other districts, it is a new thing which makes it naturally different compared to showing it to people who are aware of what they see or what to expect. We hope to inculcate a group of people among the many viewers who might be deeply touched or inspired.

Since this is Tourism Year 2011, how do you think KIMFF helps it?

We do intend to focus on Tourism this year. We have people coming to Kathmandu from other cities in Nepal. As for international tourists, we have about two dozen who fly in just for KIMFF which, I would say, is quite an achievement.

Tell us more about Nepal Panorama. Why this platform?

In 2007, we went competitive. We had many movies coming in and we had pre-selection and short-listing before they went on for screening. It was then that we understood that Nepali doc-makers could not compete against the foreign ones due to obvious reasons. We wanted to provide them with exposure and encourage them to continue, which is why we chose 30 movies for the Nepal Panorama section. It has been very helpful. Some of our filmmakers have been contacted by Festival Directors from Finland to be a part of their film festival. Also, there are other people who scout for talent which provide the Nepali filmmakers with a lot of opportunities.

[blockquote]
Films to be screened at the Travelling KIMFF:

1. The Broken Moon (55 min/ Brazil): won first prize in KIMFF 2010
2. A Little Bit Mongolian (55 min/ Australia): won second prize in KIMFF 2010
3. Waiting for the Snow (40 min/ Morocco)
4. Saving Dolma (57 min/ Nepal)
5. Pooja (58 min/ Nepal)
6. Puneko Pant (34 min/ Nepal)
7. Darka Aasuharu (32 min/ Nepal)
8. Birami Sahar (75 min/ Nepal): won best award in Nepal Panorama Section
[/blockquote]

DIY : Film-making

A camera has become everybody’s everyday commodity.  Today, new DIY is making videos- be it for a song , a parody, an interesting thing caught in motion, a photo compilation, an event, a family video, or a documentary.  We see it overflowing on sites like YouTube. Film-making is all the rage these days. From professionally done films with care given to cinematography to amateur videos with sometimes just the message to hold the film from falling right apart- one should be only too eager to DIY.

This Thing Called Happiness: Khusi Bhaneko is a short film made by Anya Vaverko, a practicing photojournalist, stencil artist and the director of Sattya Media Arts Collective. The approximately 10 minute long video is about what happiness means to different people. The idea for the film started when Anya wanted to escape Kathmandu for a little while. Her original intention was to travel, and to film something, meanwhile. ‘It wasn’t anything serious or anything hardcore journalistic. I was looking for projects to do that would engage people. Anya travelled from Kathmandu to Nuwakot and then to Lamjung, Manang and Mustang. Her aim was to shoot different people about their take on happiness. The subjects of her film range from small children who find happiness in ‘cars, jeeps, swings and balloons’ to working middle-aged and old people who find theirs in ‘Osho meditation’.

One of the first and most difficult tasks about filmmaking is to find a subject matter and to decide on a concept. The concept lies at the heart of the film. There are a lot of ideas out there, or better, in there for those who seek. Anya says,’ I knew I wanted to ask one question to all of them. I would roam around villages wondering what I would ask the villagers, regardless of their age, sex, religion and ethnicity.’ When asked why the question about happiness, Anya replies, ‘There are times when one feels low and wonders what it is really that makes one happy- what makes other people happy.’ The key here seems to be to be curious- towards what the subject matter has to offer and to anticipate surprises. She chose this particular media to portray her idea because she had always been interested in the field. She has done some documentary screening at Sattya and has come across many who share this interest. Her video, though made with no big ambitions has generated a good response.

When Anya came back with the videos, her friends at Sattya were excited about her project. ‘There are some skills that I don’t have. I am not the best editor and I can’t make the background music. But my friends at Sattya were like, ‘Why not make it better?’ They helped me improve the project.’ However Anya wanted to pay her friends for their services. She has therefore prepared a budget of $500 and put  her video up on Kickstarter. A website that allows people interested in helping her project to contribute a certain amount. Since garnering funds is an obstacle in itself, Anya advises people to put up their videos on such websites. The contributors are given credit for the movie itself and are sometimes sent a DVD. Movies give a stimulating touch to any piece of information.

Anya encourages people to film things. She says, ‘Even just a digital camera will do if it has a video mode.’ She believes Sattya would also be of great help, if anyone wants to be involved since it is ‘ a resource network for artists, writers, filmmakers, photographers, and other creative types of people in Nepal and it aspires to be a hub for DIY culture, collaboration, inspiration, and learning for emerging media artists.’

The video is still up on Kickstarter for anyone who wishes to view it or contribute to it.

Website:  http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/anyavaverko/this-thing-called-happiness-khusee-bhaneko

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Internet Activism. Really?

2011: Blogs, protest groups, online petitions, e-campaigns and e-activism are all the rage.

One of the earliest successful examples of internet activism was the class struggle in the early nineties by the indigenous EZLN Zapatista movement in Mexico. For an indigenous group, comprised of mainly of farmers from a low socio-economic status, internet communication in the nineties, let alone internet activism, was a foreign concept.  But, by aligning with social movements across the world, the Zapatistas became the symbol of a collective identity rooted in opposition to privatized and individualised capitalist endeavours.  The outstanding response that this rebellion generated was outstanding can be attributed both to the gravity of the issue and the manner in which it was communicated.

Though the face of the internet has greatly changed, the role of the internet in activism then and now is to circulate information and provide a space for the participation of a global audience. From piracy culture to terrorism, the internet has seen an aggressive evolution in virtual vices too. However, with its infinite expansion in cyberspace, the internet has shrunk the world into one robust information village. Bryan Appleyard once said that ”unlimited and uncensorable flows of information would spread democracy and undermine tyranny’. Since media has always been a key element to activism, the internet, as the biggest medium for communication today, is transcending the boundaries of traditional means of activism.

On the other hand, has internet just changed the face of media and not the cause and enthusiasm of the activists? Does internet just put together an army of people set to make a change or does it create a comfort zone where people join in because one: it is free, two: it is hip and three: everyone else is into it? Perhaps it adds a little colour and a little risk to your personal life or, simply it could be something just to add to your profile. Has crowd-sourcing enforced shallow and mostly random opinions on topics that require serious thought? Has the internet induced a bigger participation space at the expense of authentic activism? Even if it has, isn’t that what was expected of internet activism in the first place?

Social networking is getting all the more global. Technology has changed the essence of our social being and interaction with the booming rise of Facebook, Twitter and other social networking sites. Accessing people is as easy as accessing information. A number of activist organizations thrive on networking online- many a times simply through Facebook.

A protest is just ‘creating an event’ away and a petition is just ‘creating a page away’. But, the question is whether it is delivering.

Early June this year, Nepal Unites, a group on Facebook organized a peaceful protest in Kathmandu against the delay of the constitution writing. In a month and a half, the group and its cause had generated over 6500 ‘likes’. The group that constituted many known faces of Kathmandu city gathered in front of the Constituent Assembly with placards and the flag of Nepal. However, Nepal Unites has been criticized for being elitist in nature and looking through rose-tinted glasses at the number of people ‘Attending’ events as opposed to the number of people who actually turn up. Late July, Come on Youth, Stand Up put up a protest against the political deadlock as did The Red Revolution in early August in Basantapur, Kathmandu. It was Facebook that drew them together.

Unfortunately for them and us, the protests did not always manifest with the same enthusiastic gusto as portrayed online in the lead up to the event. They drew much attention, often save that of those whom the protests were directed at. It seems political activism (and sometimes the not political too) in Kathmandu is perhaps in need of deep thinking before gathering in a rush. The internet- an easy tool at our disposal is encouraging the latter as much as it is repressing the former.

The Saffron Revolution of 2007 in Burma collected 440,000 members on Facebook. The wall was then so crowded with useless and sometimes pointless posts that it became too easy to miss out a key point, message or an important event. Most of the members were assuredly, not committed or even serious activists. The group then, to retain its ingenuity of cause, moved the ‘serious’ activists to the website. The activism there has become more organized and effective. Also Facebook and MySpace have an application, most of us are aware, known as Causes created by Project Agape to use the networking towards philanthropic causes. The application has been known to raise a lot of support if not a lot of funds for different causes. The arrest of James Karl Buck by the Egyptian police was revealed by the American student himself through twitter. Last year, we voted Anuradha Koirala to be awarded the CNN Hero of the Year. People were encouraged to vote for her by her supporters through Facebook.

If internet were tangible- it would be made of rubber since it is so user-dependent. The point here is that web activism is not a failure, not at all. In fact, it is the biggest platform for dynamic activism to ever take place- only, the focus seems to have drifted from the cause that beats inside it to the limbs that pull it off. There are countless websites and forums for democracy, environmental, women, animals and homosexuality activism etc. that maintain blogs, debates and information exchange today. Digital activism should now synergize its abilities of speed, reach and cost towards improved efficiency and ethics.

Riding Into History


Nirakar Yakthumba, of 1974 AD, a well known figure in the Nepali music scene, is now making a name for himself as a cycle and environmental enthusiast. As one of the founders of Life Cycle, a cycling resort in Hetauda, Nirakar talks to Verse about the organization, the benefits of cycling and his hopes for greater accessibility to alternate modes of transport in Kathmandu.

How did your early days influence your ideas towards environmental conservation?

I spent a lot of time outdoors: hiking, cycling, camping and rock-climbing. I loved nature and spent a lot of time in the wilderness.

Do you always use a cycle?

I cycle most of the time but I use a vehicle too. It is not practical to cycle all the time. I work as a cycle guide and regularly take groups on cycling expeditions.

 

Tell us something about Life-cycle.

Four of us started this organization. We began with a plan to take cycling to places where mainstream tourism has not reached. We have started camping in places where people can go stay, relax, cycle and swim. Although it has only been around for two months, after September it will be carried on in full-swing. We are trying to project this in the local as well as international market.

Have you allocated specific locations for these cycling trips?

We have started the program in parts of Hetauda, Bishankhu-Narayan and Nawalparasi.

What age groups of people have usually been coming as part of your cycling trips?

There have been people from all age groups.

How have the local people been responding?

We have been training some local people to work with us and this has provided employment opportunities. Their involvement has been an integral part of our organization. We have also been trying to make proper bike parks in these places using natural and local materials.

What made you come up with the idea for this initiative?

Cycling is something I enjoy a lot and you might as well do something you enjoy. If you manage to make your hobby your job it does not feel like you are working.

Let us know something about Chain, the company.

Chain was started by twelve cyclists. We got together and designed the first mountain bike of Nepal. The parts are manufactured in China and assembled and sold here.

What difference can a user find between imported bikes and these bikes manufactured in Nepal?

The bikes made here are cheaper. The purpose of manufacturing these bikes was to allow everyone to be able to afford a mountain bike. A foreign mountain bike comes for around 40 thousand rupees or above, while these bikes will cost around 20 thousand rupees.

As a cyclist, how challenging do you find the roads of Kathmandu?

It is really very dangerous to cycle in the streets of Kathmandu. We do not have dedicated lanes and cycle signs. The traffic is very crazy and you have to be very careful while riding a cycle.

Can public transport be replaced by cycle transport in Kathmandu?

Of course it can. In the early 90s, when there were conflicts between India and Nepal for the Trade Treaty, everyone was riding bicycles. It was fine then, we didn’t even require traffic lights. The environment was saved of pollution. People still reached their destinations on time.

During your travels, have you found any difference between the cycling scenario here in Nepal and abroad?

In many foreign countries the government encourages city-cycling. There are minimum charges for cyclists and separate cycle stations and cycle lanes etc. There are a lot of facilities unlike Nepal.

How do you plan to carry this project forward?

I do not know about road biking, but mountain biking is certainly coming up and I’m sure it will do well. We are going to do as much as possible to help it. It is good for health, environment and tourism. That is why we are promoting mountain biking. I cannot say anything about road biking though. I would not advise a young biker to ride on Kathmandu’s streets because it is dangerous. I would recommend them to ride the bicycle outside the valley and enjoy the nature there instead.

Any last words to those enthusiastic about cycling?

Cycling is not a competition. Try to make it a lifestyle. You will always enjoy it. You’ll be able to see different things and places, especially in Nepal. I’ve been able to go to many places in Nepal and meet many people which I would never have been able to had I been in a car.

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