Highlights from Nepal-European Virtual Film Festival 2021

Besides screening films of diverse cultural origins and narrative techniques, the festival introduced the concept of “Green Filmmaking” to Nepali audiences. The event, in a nutshell, was eye-opening for cinephiles and humbling for Nepali film authorities.

Rhishav Sapkota

  • Read Time 4 min.

Kathmandu: The 2021 iteration of the Nepal-European Virtual Film Festival ran from September 17 to September 25, screening five Nepali films, 11 European films, and 23 environmental conservation-themed films.

Organized by the Delegation of the European Union to Nepal, the annual collaborative festival has completed its tenth edition this year. Like its previous editions, this year’s festival showcased a diverse selection of films, with different cultural origins, flaunting disparate narrative techniques, albeit in a virtual mode.

Representing Nepal at the fest were Dhondup Tsering’s “Ama Khando,” Binod Paudel’s “Bulbul,” Ganesh Panday’s “Co-Husband,” Sergio Basso’s “Sarita—Tell Me Who I Am,” and Rajan Kathet’s “Split Ends”.

The films, by and large, brought to screen subjects seldom explored and talked about in mainstream discourse. One such film, “Bulbul”, ricochets between the excitement of an incipient romance and the melancholy of having been away from her husband experienced by a woman tempo driver in Kathmandu. The film talks about relationships and not just any. It talks about the taxation of love when it is far away but also how the protagonist carefully  unshackles her inhibitions to an affair she thought was love. The film reaches its resolution abruptly but one could argue that it didn’t need one because that is how life often functions.

Another film, “Co-husband”, a documentary, revolves around the practice of polyandry in western Nepal and shows the many strands of family dynamic, subtly, and sometimes, crudely. The documentary doesn’t arrive in the usual bandwagon carrying an insufferable  mood and a paternalistic gaze but almost gleefully captures the story. One can’t help but notice how capital, especially political, helps shield oneself from social castrating.

Many panel discussions ran concurrently with the screenings at the fest. Nepali and European filmmakers engaged in discussions on various topics, notably “Women in Films”; more specifically, the fest featured a masterclass on “Green Filmmaking.”

The panel discussion on “Women in Films” shed light on some of the explicit and implicit issues that women in the filmmaking industry are bound to face disproportionately in both Europe and Nepal.

As part of the panel, Alexia Muinos Ruiz, director of the European Women’s Audiovisual Network, presented a research paper that documented the unequal funding, networking, and recruitment that women face in the filmmaking industries across Europe.

“The majority of funding resources go into films that are not directed by women,” Ruiz said. “Low funding perpetuates the scarcity of women-directed films.”

Ramyata Limbu, director of the Kathmandu International Mountain Film Festival, agreed with Ruiz. There are parallels to the plight of women in Nepal’s filmmaking industry, Limbu said. “However, as far as I am aware, no research has been conducted in the field [in Nepal], leaving us without gendered data,” she added.

Marie Vermeiren, director of the Women’s Film Festival, stressed on the importance of creating a larger network of women-led film festivals so that women professionals from all over the world can connect and exchange ideas about film and work.

Among the panelists was Nepali filmmaker Sampada Malla, who is currently in charge of creating Crime Patrol Nepal, a crime-fiction show that Malla proudly claims is the largest television show produced in Nepal. 

“I am currently in charge of a 200-person crew that includes about a dozen directors and writers,” Malla said. 

“I was 21 when I moved to Mumbai to work on a top-tier Hindi movie series, and I was the first Nepali woman there,” Malla said. “The idea of a creative career is fairly new in Nepal, particularly for women, so it all starts at home and with the upbringing children receive.”

Dr. Alberto Battochi, Film Commissioner at Trentino Film Commission in the Autonomous Province of Trento, Italy, moderated a discussion on Green Filmmaking. He explained that the Film Commission for which he works, one of 20 in Italy (one for each region), is a public office aimed at attracting investments, and thus talent, for Trentino films.

He described the working model of a film commission, which is virtually non-existent in Nepal. The commission provides a variety of services to production companies filming in Trentino, including scouting locations, contacting local authorities and professionals, facilitating the process of obtaining permits and special deals in hospitality, and finding logistical and technical solutions.

The “Green Film Rating System” hopes to reduce power consumption on sets, reduce vehicle use, improve material selection, manage waste more effectively, and communicate that film production must also be done in an environmentally sustainable manner.

But it was the introduction of a system of checks and guidelines for production companies to follow on a voluntary basis, known as the “Green Film Rating System”, that really stole the show in Dr. Battochi’s presentation; the system ensures that films in Trentino were made in an environmentally sustainable way. These productions would then be certified and prized as “Green Film.”

Dr. Battochi added that the Green Film rating system hopes to reduce power consumption on sets, reduce vehicle use, improve material selection, manage waste more effectively, and communicate that film production must also be done in an environmentally sustainable manner.

Responding to Dr. Battochi, filmmaker Akash Adhikari confirmed that there are no Film Commissions in Nepal, and that a Green Film Rating System is a pipe dream.

Dr. Battochii concluded the session by saying that the Trentino Film Commission would be delighted to assist the Nepal Film Development Board in incorporating the Green Film Rating System for Nepali production companies.

The Nepal-European Virtual Film Festival 2021 was an eye-opening event that screened films from both Europe and Nepal, but it was also a humbling experience for Nepali film officials in terms of the institutional deficiencies Nepali Film Development Board must overcome if Nepal is to produce better films in the future.