Category Archives: On the ground

Get Bhak

December 4, 2015

In Kathmandu we managed to make contact with Clean Up Nepal who have been carrying out surveys of the camps in Bhaktapur, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site around a half hour away from Kathmandu. Bhaktapur was badly damaged by the earthquakes and, despite many people relocating to their home villages, there are still approximately 30-40 camps in the town. With winter approaching fast, the people who are still living in these camps are the ones with nowhere else to go.

Screening at Itachhen

Screening at Itachhen

We make a research trip out to Bhaktapur and are taken around six of the camps by Clean Up Nepal’s camp monitors (Rejina & Soonam). We have time to carry out three more screenings so we select the three camps that have the largest number of children living in them, and are located near to some of the others.

Some of the camps are actually located within the boundary of the UNESCO World Heritage site itself. Toll booths will continue to collect tourist money just outside, whilst these people expect to be living here for the next 2-3 years.

Sano Byasi camp inside the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Bhaktapur

Sano Byasi camp inside the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Bhaktapur

All three screenings are a success, and we hear from the children that our screenings have been creating quite a buzz amongst the kids in the local school. We screen in Sano Byasi, Libali and Itachhen camps.

An armed guard enjoying the show at Itachhen

An armed guard enjoying the show at Itachhen

Few screenings go without some sort of hiccup and at the 2nd camp we visit we come close to brushing with the wrong side of the law. Things are getting tense throughout Nepal with the protests now stretching further into the country from the border, meaning police everywhere are on high alert. Itachhen is located right next to a police station, and although we clear it with the perimeter guard posted just inside the camp, a more senior officer soon appears during the set up and takes quite a lot of convincing that what we are doing is innocent and just for children. With some lengthy explanation and pleading from our wonderful driver and awesome Clean Up Nepal volunteers we are given the green light to continue. We are then graced with the presence of an armed guard hovering nearby for the rest of the evening, but at least he seems to enjoy the films as much as everyone else.

Chuchepati, Chu-chuchepati, slow down kids, you’re gonna hurt somebody

November 30, 2015

A rapt audience at our second Chuchepati screening

A rapt audience at our second Chuchepati screening

We returned to Chuchepati camp the day before we wanted to screen, just to check it was ok, and were greeted enthusiastically by a group of kids who remembered us from our first visit. After meeting one of the teachers there who assured us it would be fine to screen the next day, we were taken on a short tour of the camp by some of the children who wanted to show us their tents – and wanted sweets! Seems Pam’s handing out of lollies after the last screening had set some high expectations, we managed to leave the camp only after assuring the kids we would bring sweets the next day.

A couple of the girls providing pre-screening entertainment

A couple of the girls providing pre-screening entertainment

We had many willing hands helping us set up the next day, everyone was clearly excited to have another screening. A short session of singing and a couple of short films got everyone settled; the audience ranged from 100-150 over the evening, including a large percentage of adults! Under a glorious full moon we screened our favourite programme – The Red Balloon and How to Train Your Dragon – both went down an absolute treat, with the audience in thrall until the very end.

I spent much of the second film in conversation with a woman called Kalpana, who is a similar age to me. She told me a lot about her life before the earthquake, and her feelings about living in the camp – she says she is often hungry and cold, and also scared as sometimes people come into the camp to take drugs. Also that she prefers having a boyfriend to getting married, but if she ever does she wants a big white dress rather than the traditional red Nepali women wear!

Screening under the full moon

Screening under the full moon – you can see Kalpana and I in the foreground

We had a visit from the police during our conversation, though I didn’t realise until they told me afterwards as he was in plain clothes but had a walkie talkie. Apparently he was just checking up on what was happening, and was fine with us just screening, but wanted the women to call him after we had left safely. Kalpana mentioned an incident where some tourists had arrived at the camp and started giving out blankets and food – she didn’t go into specifics but the implication was that it had gotten a little hairy, understandably the police want to avoid further occurrences of this. Giving out the sweets after the screening made us realise how that might happen – the kids went wild, crowding around wanting more and more – if they had been adults it would have been pretty frightening!

We left on a high note though, with a bit of a sentimental goodbye – everyone was asking when we would be back, we were pretty sad to have to tell them we wouldn’t be able to return as we now have plans for screening in Bhaktapur, where there are still upwards of 30 camps spread throughout the city. It was a great evening though, we felt like we’d really made an impact on the people of Chuchepati camp.

Alex surrounded by engrossed kids

Alex surrounded by engrossed kids

Second screening at Chuchepati

Second screening at Chuchepati

Massive moon

Massive moon

Salyantar camp screenings

November 27, 2015

Arriving at Salyantar camp

Arriving at Salyantar camp

While in Dhading we travelled to a camp located just outside the village of Salyantar on top of a very steep hill, overlooked by the majestic peaks of the Himalayas, where we held two screenings four days apart.

Mountain view - we think maybe Himalchuli in the Manaslu range

Mountain view – we think Himalchuli in the Manaslu range

The people camped here came from a village that was wiped out by the earthquake. It is a day and a half walk from their old village and they don’t know how long they will be here.

Salyantar kids

Salyantar kids

We are told that most of them have never had TV’s and many had never seen a film. We played The Red Balloon and How To Train Your Dragon (Hindi language version) as a double bill for the first time, with children and adults alike absolutely loving it. Toothless the dragon reminds me of my cat, who I miss greatly, so I spent much of the screening hiding in my hoodie so no-one could see me cry.

First Salyantar screening

First Salyantar screening

For the first time on this trip, we saw children literally fighting off their parents in order to stay until the very end. It was magical.

Click the thumbnails for more…

From the Valley #1

November 26, 2015

Now that we’re safely back in Kathmandu, here’s the first of our back-log of updates from our time in the Dhading region. A lot happened, with 6.5 screenings and 2 workshops conducted in 7 days throughout 4 different communities as well as hikes, swims and plenty of spider watching.

Showing the Red Balloon at our second Sukaura screening

Showing the Red Balloon at our second Sukaura screening

Here’s a look at our work in the two schools in the largest communities we visited, Khahare and Sukaura. We conducted filmmaking workshops in both schools, as well as two screenings in each, although the first screening at Khahare school was a small screening inside a classroom, showing just a few shorts plus the films that the students had made earlier that day.

Sukaura students interviewing the most enthusiastic headmaster in the world

Sukaura students interviewing the most enthusiastic headmaster in the world

We kicked things off in Sukaura school with workshops for about 30 kids, split into 3 groups, with each group being given a camera to work with. We set them a list of topics to make short films/interviews on:

  • Tell us a joke or a funny story
  • Tell us about the day the earthquake struck
  • Show us around your school
  • How is your life different now compared to before the earthquake?
  • What are your dreams for the future?

After a bit of help with translation the kids ran off excitedly to make their films, while we set about preparing for that evening’s screening. When the workshop time was up we hurried home for a quick spell of editing to sort through the films and select the best to screen back to the kids that night before our chosen feature, The Jungle Book.

Screening The Jungle Book at Sukaura School

Screening The Jungle Book at Sukaura School

We returned to Sukaura a few days later for a second screening, this time playing The Red Balloon and How To Train Your Dragon.

On our last evening in the valley we had our second screening at Khahare on a grander outdoor scale, screening the epic (2 hrs :40!) and wonderful Taare Zameen Par.

Epic view of our screening in Khahare

Epic view of our screening in Khahare

More photos from Sukaura and Khahare… it was hard to choose just a few! Click the thumbnails for the full picture, with notes.

The Bare Necessities

November 15, 2015

We’ve had a quiet couple of days on the screening front as today we leave for the villages in Dhading – most of our time has been spent running around Kathmandu getting all the things we need to take with us, and waiting patiently to hear if Shital (who is helping us with many things here) was able to acquire us enough fuel for the trip. He was successful so we leave in a couple of hours for a 7 hour jeep journey, mostly off road – made the mistake of looking at a map of the route, unsurprisingly it is very very windy! It’s also fairly remote, so internet does not exist – you might not hear much from us for a couple of weeks, though we will be trying to send text updates to the home team.

We did have a bit of time out on Friday, Shital invited us to attend his family’s Bhai Tika ceremony, for the last day of Tihar festival. The ceremony celebrates the brother-sister relationship (or similar, so cousins count, and for us, so do friends!) – sisters travel to be with their brothers, blessing them with seven colours of tika powder on their foreheads then placing malas (flower garlands) around their necks and giving them small gifts of money, in thanks for their protection. The brothers do the same in return for each sister, then everyone receives a plate of treats – felt a bit like a Christmas stocking – before all sharing a meal of dhal bat, traditional Nepalese food. It was pretty special to be allowed such a glimpse into Nepalese culture.

Malas and the tray of tika colours ready for the ceremony

Malas and the tray of tika colours ready for the ceremony

Traditional Bhai Tika treats

Traditional Bhai Tika treats

Alex, Dave and Scruff after the Bhai Tika ceremony

Alex, Dave and Scruff after the Bhai Tika ceremony

Khangendra Disabled Home

November 13, 2015

For our third screening we visited Khagendra,  a home for disabled children and adults.  It felt really special putting on a screening for them all, especially as they don’t get much in the way of facilities and activities.

IMG_1853They were all very excited to have us visit and there were lots of smiles and laughter.  Some are able to move about themselves, whilst others have to be moved around in their chairs or on trolley beds, but the centre is very understaffed so they’re very limited to what they can do and where they can go.

IMG_1859We screened a number of shorts varying from Tom and Jerry to some more magical abstract animations.  I’d visited the home twice before and had filmed lots of the residents, we screened a seven minute film of them which got some good laughs and we hope made them feel special.

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For the main feature the crew played Jungle Book again.  It felt like the perfect film for all ages and the mix of abilities.  Along with the people who live at Khangendra we were also joined by lots of other westerners who volunteer at and support the home.  They all really love our project and think it’s a wonderful idea, and you can see from the photos the kids are engrossed in the films.
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The Tihar festival continues, and lots of kids are roaming around the streets in groups singing at houses or shops in return for money.  It’s a bit like a cross between Christmas carols and halloween!  Today is the final day of Tihar and it’s Bhai Tikar, where sisters bless their brothers. They’ll often travel long distances to be with family, although the fuel crisis is limiting that at the moment.  Sisters will put seven multi coloured marks on their brothers heads and give them gifts, and then the brothers do the same to the sisters.  This festival strengthens the close relationship between brothers and sisters.  Below is a photo of the powder that makes the tikar.

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Chuchepati Camp – Great Second Screening

November 11, 2015

So Tihar Festival has started here.  It runs for five days and is comparable to Christmas in importance for Nepali’s.  Yesterday was the dog day!  Dogs get a puja on their heads, flower garlands around their necks (see pic below) and get treats all day.  Today is Lakshmi Puja, and Lakshmi is the Hindu goddess of wealth, fortune, and prosperity (both material and spiritual.)  People bless things like their wallets and safe’s, and hope some more money might come their way.

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We had a wonderful screening in Chuchepati camp last night, where displaced people are still living six months after the earthquake.  Up (dubbed into Hindi) was our main feature and they really enjoyed it, there are lots of dogs in the animation which fitted nicely with Dog Puja day.

IMG_1689We’d got the kids to film each other before the screening on a small flip cameras, so projected some of that before hand, along with some beautiful shorts and some drone footage I took of the camp from the air.  As you can imagine the kids were pretty excited to see a small quadcopter flying over the camp, and then spotting their tents and tent school from the aerial footage.  The people in the camp were so helpful in putting up and taking down the cinema, and are very keen for us to return as soon as possible!

Drone-camp

The camp is situated right next to the luxury Hyatt Hotel and the Bhat-Bhateni Super Mall which contrasts hugely with the camp dwellers situation.  We were made to feel very welcome and safe by the friendly people at the camp.  (Spot Pam who’s helping and working with us enjoying Up with the local kids below!)

IMG_1744The generator problem from the first day is solved.  I went back to the Yamaha store and it was a loose connection inside.  We’ve been advised that the generator will just need to be serviced earlier and more often due to the mixing of petrol with turps (black market problems!)

IMG_1737Happy Tihar to you all! xxx

First Screening Success

November 9, 2015

We had our first public screening in Nepal tonight and happy to say it went down well.  We screened in an area called Naya Bazaar which is fairly central in Kathmandu.  The kids were loving the open mic session and impressed us with their beat boxing, rapping and songs.  We screened on a dusty open field that’s used by locals for football, cricket, volley ball, hanging out and setting off fire crackers tonight!

We played about 30 minutes of shorts, and then Jungle Book (in Hindi) which were all well received.  Only problem we had was the generator cutting out a few times.  There’s a good chance that was to do with the quality of the fuel we had to buy on the black market (due to the fuel crisis), which could be mixed down with anything.

Great to be up and running again and creating good vibes.  One highlight of the night was an old man bringing us a bunch of flowers to say thanks, another was standing behind the screen and watching the kids faces.

Thanks to everyone who’s supported, helped, organised, and been involved in getting this off the ground again.  First of many over and looking forward to many more.

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We’re here!

November 8, 2015

Scruff, Dave and Alex, all ready to go

Scruff, Dave and Alex, all ready to go

We made it to Kathmandu on time on Friday, though all the screening kit and our bags didn’t! The baggage hall was absolute chaos, we wish we’d filmed all the shouting people crowding around the carousel and the claims desk. Apparently all bags are late at the moment, the ongoing fuel crisis means that planes are carrying extra cargo and delaying passenger luggage instead. We were advised to return the next day at 4pm – there were huge stacks of bags everywhere, but happily found ours languishing in the back corner. Yay for clean clothes and double yay for being able to go ahead with our planned screenings!

Spot Scruff way at the back successfully finding all our luggage

Spot Scruff way at the back successfully finding all our luggage

First test screeningWith our kit safely stowed we headed off to Gary’s palatial accommodation to do our first test screening in the garden. After a bit of trial and error we managed to get it all up and running, so looks like we’re ready to start showing films to the children of Nepal. Well, almost ready – we’re still going through our film collection, trying to decide what will go down well with the kids. Shortlisted some features last night (wow, Bollywood films are so long!), this evening we’re concentrating on shorts. Then tomorrow is our first screening proper, on a football pitch in Naya Bazaar, in central Kathmandu.

We haven’t seen as much obvious earthquake damage as we’d expected (though we’ve only been here 36 hours in central Kathmandu) but the worsening fuel shortage is exacerbating the rebuilding efforts, this article in today’s Kathmandu Post confirms that the true costs of the earthquake go beyond physical damage.

Unicef Executive Director Anthony Kirsopp Lake has warned that a humanitarian crisis is looming for the children of Nepal. “The declining stocks of gas, food and medicines, together with the closure of schools due to political strife in the Tarai and shortages of fuel throughout the country, are not only inflicting damage to the lives of the children now—they threaten the future of the country itself,” Lake said.

Namaste from Kathmandu

November 5, 2015

So preparations for the team arriving tomorrow are going well.  We’ve been scouting out and arranging locations to screen here in Kathmandu, working with our local team getting the poles made for the screen, buying all sorts of bits and bobs including rope, solar lights, a hammer and even some tennis balls to go on the end of the guide rope pegs!

I’ve been here two weeks so far and am very excited we’ll have the films rolling within a few days.  Everyone we’ve spoken to here is excited and intrigued to have us bringing a bit of cinematic magic into their lives.

Safe travels Scruff, Alex and Dave – see you at the airport.  Here’s a pic of black Kali from Kathmandu Durbar Square the Goddess of Time, Change, Power, Creation, Preservation, and Destruction.
Black Kali