When we returned to Kathmandu after the village, we had one week left of our trip and it was PACKED.
We still had a screening at the US embassy, three suicide awareness workshops—one at Fulbright and two at government schools, a series of thank you/goodbye dinners and an opening-night screening at the Kathmandu International Mountain Film Festival.
One of the biggest blessings out of this trip was meeting and working with Ashley Hagaman and Rawat Kanchan—two women working in Nepal in suicide research and prevention. I became online friends with Ashley via our Kickstarter back in 2012. I knew I was going to love her, but I did not know just how much! And then Ashley introduced us to Kanchan who is working with TPO Nepal (Transcultural Psychosocial Organization) in mental health and suicide awareness. We also hit it off, big-time!
(Ashley, Kanchan and I debriefing the suicide awareness workshop we just did for a room full of high school girls. It was intense!)
When the US embassy invited us to do presentations of Drawing the Tiger for two groups of high school girls at government schools for their 15 Days of Activism Against Gender Based Violence campaign, Scott, Kristin and I knew we couldn’t and SHOULDN’T do it alone. We are filmmakers, not mental health professionals. To show Shanta’s story to a classroom of girls in similar situations is a tremendous opportunity all around, but one that needs deep consideration. Suicide remains the number-one cause of death for women in Nepal and numbers are only increasing.
After showing just a few minutes of Shanta on the screen, tears started rolling down some of the girls’ cheeks. The room of 60+ girls was pin-drop silent. Kristin and I looked at each other from across the room. We had both clearly stopped breathing. Like I had suspected, this was a big deal. Ashley and Kanchan were scanning the girls’ faces, taking note of which girls might really need a personal check-in after the workshop.
I was so relieved to have them there with their expertise. Also, Ishu, a gifted interpreter from the US Embassy. I have never presented with an interpreter before and with Ishu it was so easy. We instantly had a rhythm. Presenting this sensitive subject matter in Nepali was key.
Ashley had made cards to hand out to the teachers with the suicide hotline number, as well as other mental health resources. She had meant for them to be for the teachers to share with their students. The success of and urgency for this suicide awareness workshop was emphasized by the teachers’ enthusiasm over these cards. “Can… ummm… adults use this hotline too?” Teachers at both schools asked. The suicide hotline and its concept are very new in Nepal. Not enough people know about it and it is clearly so needed.
We got home that night completely exhausted. One of my big goals/dreams for Shanta’s story had come true. I got to share it with Nepali girls. The take-away: there is so much more work to be done to help girls like Shanta.
Ashley, Kanchan and I are now on fire about how to make this film—Shanta’s story— into a tool that can be used to promote suicide prevention and awareness. I just got off the phone with Ashley who is still in the thick of suicide research in Nepal—WE HAVE PLANS. We are going to create something that we can use to develop what we did just started in these schools. I mean, really it is already created—it is just repackaging the film and designing a curriculum—doing some pilot studies. It was not an accident that I met these women who are all passionate about this one really depressing thing. We were thrown into this workshop environment together and rocked it like we had been on tour together for years. It was magical.
Our last night in Nepal was a screening at the Kathmandu Mountain Film Festival—a perfect and perfectly overwhelming way to end to the month. Kumar was there with his brother, Sita Ram, who had not seen the film yet. I kept my eye on him more than the screen. It was the first time for him to see Shanta since she was alive. I was glad he was there. He is a sensitive, artistic soul. It was important that he be a part of it too.
I felt the same way about Shanta’s best friend, Lali. When I saw her in the theater lobby, I almost lost it. We met Lali way back in 2008 at the same time we met Shanta in her apartment in Patan. Then in 2013, Ramyata, Scott, Kristin and I took an epic journey to her village. I was on a quest to ask if she knew why Shanta killed herself. Lali did not know. She simply said that should not have done so. Lali is an extraordinary person—warranting her own documentary. (Yes. Working on it. Yes. We have the footage.) She was a teen soldier/medic in the civil war. Now village women walk for hours to seek her care. She is currently going to school to be a full-on nurse thanks to the Bo M Karlsson Foundation—a wonderful org here in Seattle that supports Nepali women to get a secondary education. BMKF is doing capital G- GOOD WORK!!! Check them out.
I watched her as well as Shanta came on the screen. But Lali…where Sita Ram teared up, Lali was stoic. The girl has seen a lot.
Lali and Bo M Karlsson women at KIMFF screening of Drawing the Tiger. (She is in the middle with the fur collar.)
So our trip ended with a Kumar rocking the post-screening Q&A. We got some tough questions. Like, what are the filmmakers (that is us) doing to help The Darnals after making this very personal film about them.
Kumar answered confidently that we have helped them, but that their lives have not changed because of the film. They are still very much struggling. But, he said, through the years, it is like we are doing this project together. This is why he is standing up there in front of them, he said.
Kumar was so confident during the whole thing. He owned it.
I chimed in with this: Documentary films like Drawing the Tiger—even in the United States—do not make money and that is actually a pay-to-play venture. There were many South Asian filmmakers in the audience and they were nodding their heads in support. I added that we have a “DONATE” button on our website where we collect funds for the family’s post-earthquake rebuilding efforts.
I saw the man who asked the question and his friends start smiling and clapping. Phew! It was a question that needed to be asked. I was grateful for it and I think we answered it well, thanks to Kumar.
The next morning, before we caught our plane, Kumar made us lunch. I called Ramyata and put the phone on speaker. She translated for us as we went on and on about how much we love each other. I am just going to say it again so that I really do it—I am going to learn Nepali so I can tell him how much he means to me myself.
Looking at all the photos we took of them throughout the month. Rabina seems really happy to have her husband back from Malaysia.
WHAT’S NEXT FOR DRAWING THE TIGER:
1. Making a half-hour sequel, The Eldest Son, about Kumar’s quest to pull the family out of poverty by abandoning the tradition of metal work to do factory work abroad.
We are currently seeking funds for translation and editing.
We have some great interviews with Kumar and his workmates in Malaysia.
We interviewed his wife, Rabina, about being on her own for two years. (I am really excited about this interview. She has clearly gained a confidence she did not have before.)
We also filmed a lovely scene of the Darnals having a family meeting about what they are going to do next—now that the dream of migrant labor has been tried and found wanting.
Our goal is to finish this piece by the end of summer. I seen quite a few newsy-type videos about migrant labor, but never the whole story like we have with Kumar—and not with the depth of intimacy or time arc we have in this footage.
(We might just film The Darnals till we die. We and they are all pretty good at it.)
2. Looking for funds to edit Drawing the Tiger down for a suicide awareness pilot program with curriculum created with TPO Nepal—a mental health NGO in Kathmandu.
3. Fulfilling our Kickstarter rewards. (Thank you for your patience, Kickstarters!)
4. Signing with an educational distributor. (We will let you know as soon as it is official!)
5. Booking Drawing the Tiger for screenings and speaking engagements
6. Screening the film at the Northwest Film Forum and other art house theaters around the country (Let us know if you have one in your city that might be interested).
7. Continuing our support of The Darnal family by seeking sustainable, long-term and realistic opportunities for them. (We will keep you posted & involved if interested.)
8. Making money by doing video and still photography documentary work. (Spread the word. These filmmakers are looking for work.)
9. Researching the next feature film—which will be in English and 5 miles from our house. (Yes. We know what it is. You are going to LOVE it!)
10. Giving back by supporting other documentary filmmakers in doing this hard, rewarding, important art.
After our first screening at Film South Asia, a young Nepali woman who works for an NGO in female empowerment sent me this essay that she said she had stayed up writing after seeing Drawing the Tiger. She said she couldn’t sleep because she couldn’t stop thinking about the movie. I was so touched. She said I could share it with you here. This is an excerpt:
Shanta: In Every Heart
By Aishwarya Rani Singh
(Reflection on the Documentary: Drawing The Tiger
Directed by: Amy Benson, Scott Squire and Ramyata Limbu)
“Shanta stood out than the rest, she was smart, was intelligent, was capable and deserving enough to become what she believed in. But the scary reality and unnoticed murky hole that exists in our society is something where she got buried in. It’s just the matter of time, when many more such innocent lives might get buried too…..
Children, whom we consider the true future of our world, are in dire need to be paid a special attention toward. Its high time we realize that money, food, clothes isn’t everything. What materialistic comfort does not fulfill, help, a listening ear, a supporting hand and loving heart can.”
We also interviewed by Taran Khan, a journalist from India, for Himal SouthAsian Magazine. You can read it here. And there was a lovely and provocative piece about Drawing the Tiger in the Kathmandu Post written by Surendra Lawoti. You can read it here.
This adventure—touring Drawing the Tiger to Nepal—was a trip of a lifetime. We accomplished and learned so much. Everything fell into place. We didn’t get sick. We were safe. We had fun.
I want to take this space to thank some key folks who helped make it go so smoothly.
Bibhushan Raj Joshi and his lovely El Mediterraneo restaurant (Bibhsuhan and his restaurant get their own section!)—Bibhushan is a huge part of what made Kathmandu, amid its post-earthquake sorrow, crushing fuel crisis and general political upheaval, mixed with our own audacious goals AND a six-year-old—not just doable, but so pleasant—He provided us a home. Bibhushan is a Nepali born restaurateur who lived in Spain for 10 years. His restaurant, El Mediterraneo, is in the Jhamsikhel neighborhood, and if you are visiting Kathmandu, you must go and eat there. Not only will you get to eat some truly delicious Tapas like Patatas Bravas and Calamari (YUM!) but you will get to meet Bibushan, who is an utter delight. His energy is fast and fun and he LOVES food. He was as excited to make the food as we were to eat it. The apartment we rented from his is just above the restaurant. In the evening he would bring us treats from the restaurant, like fresh baked banana bread. When he had extra time, he made us full-on meals like a whole Nepali feast and momos just for Hale.
If you traveling to Nepal, let me do an email introduction for you. Bibhushan is a great host!
Ramyata Limbu, our co-director—for all the translating, wrangling and making time for us in your crazy schedule. You are one of the most even keeled, hard-working, honest, kick-ass people I know.
Mohan Lamsal of Makalu Travel for believing in this project from way back and making us part of your birthday celebration.
Sudan Shrestha and his family for all you have done to help the Darnals and the delicious closing dinner you served us.
Neeta Shrestha for getting us picked up from the airport with love being with us in Nepal spirit and being such a good listener upon our return.
Chandika Bhandari—we would not have made it to the village without you.
Sapana Sakya for facilitating the Q&A we will never forget.
Ishu Lama at the US Embassy for being an interpreter with such connection and heart.
Everyone at Film South Asia for celebrating Drawing the Tiger and making us so welcome.
Smita Vanniyar, Deepti Murali and friends for teaching us about the India Indie film world and befriending Hale.
All the Nepalis who let Hale sit on their lap on crowded buses, gave him treats and their undivided attention so we could do all the other things.
Ashley Hagaman for her enthusiasm for our project, compassion for Shanta and brain-iac suicide knowledge.
Paul Goldstein for holding down the fort while we were gone.
Dan Driscoll for all the pictures, accepting us just the way we are, being so game and making the space.
Kristin Ougendal… for all the things….
YOU! All this would not have been possible without YOU—you reading this! Thank you for your notes of encouragement and to let us know you were thinking of us. Thank you to everyone who has helped us financially at any point on this journey of finishing this film.
THANK YOU TO OUR EQUIPMENT and LOGISTICS SPONSORS:
We went out on a limb for shooting video on this trip, not even bringing a full-fledged video dedicated camera. Instead we relied primarily on our iPhones.
We would not have felt this was possible without the powerful and well supported iPhone App called Filmic Pro. It’s a $10 app, and this is a bit of a valentine–they didn’t sponsor us; we paid retail for it. But the company (which is based in Seattle, by the way) stood behind their product when we needed help in a way that made us kind of fall in love with them. Good stuff.
In order to make use of the iPhone’s remarkable video capabilities, we needed a way to mount it to a tripod, a way to get sound in from external microphones, and a means of connecting wide angle and zoom lenses to the thing.
Cue our sponsors, Action Life Media, who graciously lent us an mCam iPhone mount with wide/tele/macro lenses, and hooked us up with some good deals in microphones we needed as well. Thanks guys! This device makes it possible to carry our whole video kit in a soft bag about the size of a lunchbox. Amazing.
We also must thank Ampridge, which lent us two iPhone specific mics, the MightyMic S and the MightyMic L—both of these make it possible to jack in headphones to monitor the sound the mic pics up, which is key to recording audio securely in a shoot.
(Sure, it’d be nicer to be able to monitor the signal the camera picks up, and there is a way to do that using a different kind of cable, but we didn’t get that workign 100% reliably before we left. Next time!)
In any case, super handy gear all around—we had the free use of this stuff, but I will be adding all of it to our gear bags officially. iPhone filmmaking is kind of addicting!
SHAILENDRA D. KARKI
Tiger Team Member. Dear Friend. Cinematographer extraordinaire. Lifesaver. New Dad. Congratulations and thanks—not necessarily in that order—are due to our dear pal Shailendra, our Nepal-side cameraman for much of production. In spite of a jam-packed shooting schedule of his own, Shai really bailed us out shooting second camera as we captured Kumar’s homecoming at Kathmandu’s Tribhuvan International Airport. After the shoot, he scooted me and our gear across the city because at that time of night there are no taxis to be found. Swoon!
And a week ago, he became a father… Congratulations, dear friend!
Drawing the Tiger is screening in Seattle on Leap Day, February 29th at the Northwest Film Forum
We are thrilled and honored to be part of the lineup for the 2016 Toronto Nepali Film Festival, taking place March 19-20 in Toronto.
We will also shortly be announcing our San Francisco Bay Area premiere and another Bay Area screening opportunity, both in March.