Telling Stories : Kesang Tseten

Film Southasia is an organization which has been supporting and showcasing Southasian documentaries since 1997. The Film Southasia festival is held every two years where the best documentaries of the region are screened. The eighth edition of the fest is to be held from 29th September to 2nd October 2011, here in Kathmandu. ‘Saving Dolma’ a documentary from Kesang Tseten is one of the 36 films participating in this year’s festival.

Kesang Tseten is a filmmaker based in Kathmandu and has been making documentaries for more than a decade now. The award winning writer and director has made documentaries like Saving Dolma, We Homes Chaps, In Search of the Riyal, We Corner People, Lepchas of Sikkim, Listen to the Wind, Frames of War and Machhendranath.


We Homes Chaps was featured in Film Southasia’2001 and now ‘Saving Dolma’ is     participating in Film Southasia’ 2011. As a nonfictional filmmaker what sort of challenges did you face over the last decade in this genre of filmmaking?

Kesang Tseten: So were, ‘In Search of the Riyal’ and ‘We Corner People’.  The biggest challenge is the filmmaking itself: how to find the right treatment for the particular subject that means knowing what and how to film, and how to edit, in the shaping of a film. The subject is different each time, with its own discussion, your own understanding and feelings about it, so how to find the film, to tell the story, is the challenge that returns each time.

Do you think that Film Southasia has succeeded in popularizing documentaries in our region?

Kesang Tseten: Definitely.  Both Film SouthAsia and Kimff, both spawned by Himal Association, as well as other smaller festivals have been significant and instrumental, in expanding the audience and taste for documentaries

Your films ‘In Search of the Riyal’ and Saving Dolma’ tells the stories of migrant workers in the Gulf.  Explain their influence upon you.

Kesang Tseten:  It is basically a David and Goliath story, where people ‘and poor people ‘go to the richer powerful country; they both need each other, but the rich one can play off the poor more than the other way around.   However, it is more complex as there are many shades of good guys and many shades of bad guys.  We can’t demonize ‘them’, the Arabs, or whatever, as a lot of problems are rooted here itself, caused by manpower agents, government policies, the wages here, one’s own people or even relatives.  Many have a hand, and so it is a challenge to show these realities accurately.  How to show these and not distort or misrepresent or be unfair to anyone; how not to be simplistic: So I’m influenced by peoples’ stories and experiences that point to a web of complexities that pervade the phenomenon of migrant workers. I guess empathy for these common people is the constant feeling while making these films.

What was the biggest challenge that you faced while making ‘Saving Dolma’? When did you first hear of Dolma? When you first met her did she readily agree to let you film her story?

Kesang Tseten:  The challenge was the difficulty of access, to Dolma, to the women working in Kuwait, as I couldn’t go there.  So I had to depend on footage that was gotten by other people, some of which was very good, but they too had limited access.    Also, how to tell a story using the single example of Dolma, sentenced to death and sitting in death row (subsequently, her sentence was commuted); how to tell such a complex and personal story without delving too deeply into the personal, and how to make it work so it conveys the general condition of women domestic workers.

Documentaries normally do not achieve commercial success. Have you ever thought of making mainstream commercial movies?

Kesang Tseten:  I would love commercial success but it’s not why I make documentaries. I make a livelihood, so I consider that good going, doing what I like and getting paid. I have thought of making a feature – let’s not say mainstream commercial films – but when I finish a documentary, the next one somehow seems to loom, so I continue. But even there I wouldn’t do it to get commercial success because it isn’t that easy, for one. I would do it to try a different form, but only if I had a story I absolutely liked. That aside, I don’t see documentary as an inferior form or something you do as a rite of passage before making a feature. That notion isn’t valid. It all depends on how well you do it, how satisfied you are rather than the idea that features are a higher form than documentary

How have you been managing the funds for your films?

Kesang Tseten:  I have been lucky to get funding regularly for all but one of my films. The Swiss Agency for Development Cooperation (SDC) has been very good, Helvetia’s, too, in funding the films and giving me a free hand to do it anyway I see fit. That kind of freedom is rare. I have also gotten grants from the The Jan Virjman Fund and the Pusan International Film Festival which are given on a competitive basis.

Has the audience of documentary films grown over the last 10 years? Do you use facebook or other social media to reach your audiences? How can they get access to your films?

Kesang Tseten: I’m sure the audience has grown, thanks to several film festivals (FSA, Kimff, some others and lots of opportunities for screenings, but it would be wonderful if television slotted documentaries on a regular basis, real documentaries, not reportage and news features. They do but we have to pay for it at present. Then it would reach a huge audience.  I don’t use social media all that much except to put up notices for screenings. I guess I’m not such a great marketer.

What inspired you to follow the lesser popular style of filmmaking? Are there other filmmakers who inspire you?

Kesang Tseten: I don’t know what is popular and what isn’t. I think about my subject, film in a way that I think is suitable, or often, I don’t have a plan but film as a way of research, and then see how to solve the puzzle, of finding the best vehicle for the material.  Most times, it’s the material that suggests the form.  There are lots of inspirational figures such as, these days, Frederick Wiseman, who makes long observational films about American institutions (Titticut Follies, Near Dying, High School), the Maysles (Salesman, Grey Garden), Erroll Morris (The Thin Blue Line, Gates of Heaven), Ross Mcelwey (Sherman’s March, Time Indefinite), and many more.

Three other films from Nepal have are being showcased in the upcoming festival. Have you watched those films? What is your opinion of those films?

Kesang Tseten:  I haven’t watched the other films from Nepal and don’t know about them.

What is the condition of independent filmmaking in Nepal? Do the independent filmmakers of Nepal meet and exchange ideas on a regular basis?

Kesang Tseten:  Independent means different things at different places.  If you mean, a film’s content and form that is produced free from sponsor’s interest, I think that is happening, to some extent but not a lot because there isn’t funding to support that, and also our capacities.  We tend to be influenced by the issues that have funding interest, which is to be expected as who can make a film out of his or her own pocket, but that’s the situation. That and the fact that we are fairly new to this kind of expression, or not as developed, given the lack of practice and experience.  We tend to know each other, filmmakers, that is, but there isn’t a thriving discussion or scene going on, I don’t think. I suppose it will happen when we are ready for it.


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.
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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.

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

Film South Asia

In the most ordinary of times when a good film comes to an end, the audience applauds, the director and the crew steal the limelight and the viewers go home feeling good. Strangely, in this genre of cinema, things aren’t the same because what has been spun out is a good deal of reel, and only reel. Documentaries seem to have a different meaning to its projection of stories, of peoples and of places. If there is a chance to get close with the people, lives, places and reality that you have not seen or met then sometimes documentaries are your only chance. Yet, it is not a daily dose of hard news. Documentaries are real, the set is real, everything projected is raw, the actors are the soul of the stories and the directors have a very complex situation of capturing these moments alive, nothing has changed even after the documentary is over. The protagonist continues to live what he lived inside the camera. There is simply no end to a story of a real person, place, or situation.

Film South Asia, has been promoting some very interesting and important documentaries of South Asian Countries that reflect a variety of aspects ranging from conflicts, social disturbances, and music to politics, events, and sports. With a goal to popularize documentaries so that it entertains, informs and changes lives, FSA brings together film makers in one festival where ideas and concepts are shared and the Non fiction documentaries are exposed to regional as well as international avenues. FSA runs for four continuous days in Kathmandu. The documentaries go through a tough competition that’s judged by a three member south asian jury and the best film gets awarded the Ram Bahadur Trophy along with a citation and a cash prize of USD 2000. The second best film and the best debut film introduced will be awarded a citation along with a cash price of USD 1000 each. The competition is so fierce that many a time the jury is compelled to split the title in between two films.

The FSA this year is slated to take place from Sept. 29 to October 2. Directors, in most of these documentaries, have been remarkably bringing to light the smallest of issues that have been rooted for a national level degradation. Among the four Nepali documentaries selected for the screening at FSA, ‘Journey to Yarsa’ and ‘Saving Dolma’ are directed by Dipendra Bhandari and Kesang Tsetan respectively. ‘Aadesh Baba- So be it’ is directed by Aurore Laurent and Adrien Viel while Stefeno Levi directed ‘Out of the Darkness’.

The FSA, not only screens these documentaries at the festival but also selects around 15 documentaries to travel all over the Subcontinent and the world as the Travelling Film Southasia (TFSA). Hence TFSA has been promoting the skill and potentiality of Southasian people by show casing the stories of this particular region in an international avenue and creating a contemporary subconsciousness among the viewers.

Though Documentaries are gaining popularity among the audience, Kshitiz Adhiraj(Director of Being Me) from Doc school has a different approach and perspective on it. He firmly believes that Documentaries today have lost its original essence. According to him, documentaries should be conceptual and more of an art form rather than being sold on the stories of social imbalances and traumas faced by the poor and suppressed. He believes that the quality of documentaries is degrading with the same old themes being propagandized and repeated over time. That’s why he doesn’t do Documentaries anymore.

Well the cliché of the coin having two sides cannot be ignored. I personally like documentaries since it gives us insight into the entire subject that would never have made an impact in our lives if it hadn’t been captured by the filmmakers. In developing countries like ours, it is one of the most powerful visual mediums to bring the stories that have been overlooked to life. FSA, for the eighth edition of this kind, has been conserving the spirits and dedication of these independent films.

Mark in your calendar that starting 29th September, FSA 2011 is going to screen the following movies till the 2nd of October. You can find the time schedule for the screenings at

  • Aadesh Baba-So Be It, Aurore Laurent and Adrien Viel, Nepal
  • Apour Ti Yapour. Na Jang Na Aman. Yeti Chu Talukpeth, Ajay Raina, India/Pakistan
  • The Boy Mir-Ten Years in Afghanistan, Phil Grabsky, Afghanistaazn
  • Common Ground, Philip Buccellato, Sri Lanka
  • Cowboys in India, Simon Chambers, India
  • The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, Tarun Bhartiya, India
  • Dharavi, Slum For Sale, Lutz Konermann, India
  • Director Painter Shri Baburao Laad Saheb, Richa Hushing, India
  • The Dreaming Vendors, Ahmed Abid, Bangladesh
  • I Am, Sonali Gulati, India
  • I Was Worth 50 Sheep, Nima Sarvestani, Afghanistan
  • Inshallah, Football!, Ashvin Kumar, India
  • Ishpata, Afsheen Sajid Ali and Irfan Ali Shah, Pakistan
  • Jai Bhim Comrade, Anand Patwardhan, India
  • Jharu Katha, Navroze Contractor, India
  • Journey to Yarsa, Dipendra Bhandari, Nepal
  • Kerosene, Kannan Arunasalam, Sri Lanka
  • Made in India, Rebecca Haimowitz and Vaishali Sinha, India/USA
  • The Market, Rama Rau, India/Canada
  • Moving to Mars, Mat Whitecross, Burma/Thailand/UK
  • Nargis-When Time Stopped Breathing, Kyaw Kyaw Oo and Maung Myint Aung, Burma
  • Nero’s Guests, Deepa Bhatia, India
  • The Nine Months, Merajur Rahman Baruah, India
  • The Other Song, Saba Dewan, India
  • Out of the Darkness, Stefano Levi, Nepal
  • Partners in Crime, Paromita Vohra, India
  • Pink Saris, Kim Longinotto, India
  • Platform No. 5, Vanaja C, India
  • Saving Dolma, Kesang Tseten, Nepal
  • The Search for Justice, Tehmina Ahmed, Pakistan
  • So Heddan So Hoddan, Anjali Monteiro and KP Jayasankar, India
  • Summer Pasture, Lynn True and Nelson Walker, Tibet Autonomous Region
  • This Prison Where I Live, Rex Bloomstein, Burma/Germany
  • Tres Tristes Tigres, David Munoz, Bangladesh
  • The Truth That Wasn’t There, Guy Gunaratne, Sri Lanka/UK
  • War and Love in Kabul, Helga Reidemeister, Afghanistan

Nepal Cine Symposium – Cinema Through Network

The Nepal Cine Symposium ‘2011 is a film and art event that aims to promote and communicate in those aspects of cinema that are not facilitated by film festivals or by regular aspects of commercial filmmaking.

Designed as an open forum, The Nepal Cine Symposium is an accessible platform with multiple programs under one roof for four days bringing together filmmakers, film producers, film exhibitors and lobbyists together to interact, share information and open global collaboration possibilities with South Asian cinema. Its first venture taking place in Kathmandu in 2011, the symposium, alongside Nepali cinema as a central focus, aims to interact on issues relating to South Asian cinematic growth and the positioning of how regional cinema can proceed in the days to come. The final event will comprehend ideas of a festivalwith various networks gridded together enabling the existence of a larger seminar and a  film market based structure that carries with it various dimensions which can propel overall growth of cinema in the region.

Nepal Cine Symposium is organizing the main film showcase program ‘Something like a FILM FESTIVAL’ which will take place alongside all other activities of the symposium, and is one of the four core programs at the 2011 Nepal Cine Symposium. ‘something like a FILM FESTIVAL’ aims to promote the understanding and sharing of fiction contents from both the visible and the hidden cinema countries of the world; as suggested by the name itself, we believe in the charm and the aspiration of cinema beyond conventions ‘this alone being the main guideline of the festival. The 2011 edition, shall exhibit a wide selection of fiction related feature and short length films finely selected to represent the new global aspirations on fiction film from both professionals and amateur filmmakers.