Highlights from KIMFF 2021

Reflection and reviews of some of the best films screened at the 19th iteration of the Kathmandu Mountain Film Festival, which drew to a close Sunday.

Bishnu Kalpit (R) receives an award for Best Documentary and Best ICIMOD Mountain Film under the Nepal Panorama section for “God's Buffalo”.(Photo:KIMFF)

Rhishav Sapkota

  • Read Time 4 min.

Kathmandu: The 19th Kathmandu International Mountain Film Festival, which featured 60 films from 28 countries, concluded on December 13. In an attempt to return to normalcy following the pandemic, the films were screened in both virtual and physical settings, at the festival’s official website (festival.kimff.com), where some films will be screened till December 15, and at Nepal’s Film Development Board’s auditorium in Chabahil, respectively. The festival’s theme this year was “Climate Karma,” with the goal of sparking conversations about the existential threat that is climate change. A handful of Nepali films were acclaimed this year, a touch of vibrancy in a film industry put to sleep by the pandemic.

Pavol Barbara’s “Everest: The Hard Way” won the International Film Award. Viviana Gómez Echeverry’s “Between Fire and Water” and Tasha Van Zandt’s “After Antarctica” bagged second and third prizes, respectively. Tamara Stepanyan’s Village Des Femmes received a special jury mention.

Bishnu Kalpit’s “God’s Buffalo” won Best Documentary and Best ICIMOD Mountain Film under the Nepal Panorama section. Kiran Shrestha’s “Yet Another Winter” won the award for Best Fiction. Bibhusan Basnet and Pooja Gurung’s joint directorial, “The Big-Headed Boy, Shamans & Samurais”, received a Special Jury mention. This year’s jury included veteran Nepali theater artist and director Anup Baral, photographer and writer Caroline Fink, and climber and award-winning author Mario Casella, both from Switzerland.

Kalpit’s “God’s Buffalo” tells the story of a man who loses his prized buffalo to the Melamchi River floods. Homan Singh Shivabhakti, the protagonist, refers to the pregnant buffalo as his mother. The buffalo was rescued, but it wasn’t until Shivabhakti arrived at the shed where it was kept after being rescued that he discovered one of the rescuers was adamant about keeping it. One among the rescuers claims he risked his life to save the pregnant cattle and is entitled to compensation at the very least. The 14-minute 20-second long documentary follows Shivabhakti as he experiences hope, desperation, and surrender to the ways of the world through his bond with the buffalo. Kalpit reflected on how he came to know Shivabhakti, recalling that he was just a journalist on his way to the field for reporting when he became enthralled by the exchanges between Shivabhakti and the rescuers.

All in all, this hybrid iteration of Kimff was a mixed bag of films that hit the mark and those that could’ve tried harder. 

“Yet Another Winter” by Kiran Shrestha is the story of a mother’s never-ending efforts to make her daughter with hearing and speaking deformities speak again. She solicits shamans, defies her husband, and eventually locks her daughter up in a temple in the hopes that she will call out in desperation for her mother. Binita Thapa Magar, who plays the mother, walks a fine line between calmness and apprehension. As the silhouette of the mother-daughter duo lingers in the twilight and a flashy toy blinks in the daughter’s hands, the audience is left to wonder whether or not the daughter actually speaks after this attempt. Was the toy purchased out of joy or out of consolation?

Kiran Shrestha (R) receives an award for Best Fiction for “Yet Another Winter”. (Photo: KIMFF)

The special jury mention, “The Big-Headed Boy, Shamans & Samurais”, a meditative, autobiographical video essay, above all, is a testimony of how the audience should be respected. It doesn’t preach and it doesn’t blackmail the audience into thinking and feeling a certain way. It involves reflection, humor, and honest questions regarding their own craft. However, as a film, it bears the brunt of the notion that a film must constantly show the audience a storyline. In one scene, two children are perched on a woodwork supporting a tin-roofed meeting place for locals. “Would you like to play in our film?” the filmmakers ask the children. “We won’t play with a bunch of bourgeois like you,” the kids respond, as the filmmakers report. The narration goes on to reflect on what the kids said. The narrator wonders if filming a lone buffalo out of a window and a corner of their room had any utility or meaning in the larger scheme of things, concluding that being a bourgeois has no bounds. It was as if their personal references to Kurosawa’s films, Samurais and Ronins in villages where no one knew about them made for a beautiful transplantation of the abstract, but the question of utility for these faces and names no one would ever know about teased them the entire time.

Journalist Ankit Khadgi’s “I Wanted To Be Like Madhuri Dixit” also received a lot of attention at the screening and on social media. While Khadgi’s personal story about his attempt to discover his feminine side is a brave compilation of footage from his life, it falls short of providing the necessary conditions to induce important revelations for the audience. The film begins with a close-up of Khadgi crying in front of the camera. It is an uncomfortable scene to watch that could potentially set the stage for dealing with more uncomfortable topics surrounding queerness in Nepali society. But the film loses tightness in its storyline just as the audience fastens their seat belts to be ready for a ride. His mother is an intriguing character in her own right, and she provides a worthy subject herself for analysis as a mother who unconditionally loves her son but is also wary of society’s perceptions of his identity.

All in all, this hybrid iteration of Kimff was a mixed bag of films that hit the mark and those that could’ve tried harder. The organizers deserve kudos for bringing a diverse array of films from around the world amid the pandemic. This year’s edition, themed ‘Climate Karma’, featured a few films and panels around the subject, but there could have been more. There were plenty of films that quenched the audience’s thirst to return to theatres again and soak in the pleasure of large, moving images.