WOW | Coffee Break

WOMEN FILMMAKERS – Documenting Life

Women documentary filmmakers: Asmita Shrish, Prasna Dangol and Rewati Gurung talks to WOW about their inspiration, challenges and projects that are close to their heart.

Asmita Shrish

Asmita finds liberation in filmmaking. She connects to people through her films and documentaries. Her short documentary Auntie Ganga has been played in 15 festivals around the world including in Britain and Nepal. It was selected by the British Council to play on National Old Age Day and won an award from the Human Rights Watch Film Festival in London.

Asmita also produced the short documentary Kaloo School (2013) exploring the challenges of education in the mountains of Afghanistan. The film was premiered at the International Documentary Film festival Amsterdam in 2013 and was the winner of the One World Human Rights Film Festival in Prague. She is the Co-director for Chandra, which has been nominated for a number of festivals including Locarno Film Festival, Palm Springs International ShortFest, São Paulo International Short Film Festival, London Shorts Film Festival, Dhaka International Film festival, FLICKERS Rhode Island Film Festival and Fribourg International Film Festivals. In 2018 her documentary Gyalmu’s House won the Best Non-fiction in Nepal Panorama Award at the Kathmandu International Mountain Film Festival 2017 ( KIMFF).

How do you generate ideas for your documentaries?

Until now I have worked with people and places that are familiar and close to me. I focus on intimacy with the subject; I can only generate ideas for documentaries when I can relate to a situation.

The story behind your documentary Gyalmu’s House…

I met Gyalmu didi a few years ago during a ski trip. I was the only girl in a group of 16 men. Hence, I requested for a female porter to accompany me during the trek. That’s how I got in touch with Gyalmu didi. We established a close relationship during the trek and even kept in touch after wards. Initially, we had no plans on making this documentary. I was reluctant till the end of 2015 as I was still shaken by the earthquake. Then Gavin, my close friend, a keen mountaineer and the director of the documentary motivated me. He made me realise that since we were going to Langtang anyway, why not give it a shot? We didn’t plan a structure but we just happened to know that Gyalmu didi was there and she was rebuilding her house. We visited her and after that, we just went with the flow.

Describe some of the challenges faced while making this film.

Initially, we had no planned structure for a documentary nor did we have plan B in case Gyalmu didi didn’t give us permission to film. Also, it was physically challenging for both Gavin and I. We had to face landslides and unpredictable weather.

How did people react after watching your documentary? 

Most of the reactions were positive especially from Langtangpas. The national and international audiences praised Gyalmu didi’s enigmatic character which was my goal. One of the comments we received at Banff Mountain Film Festival was: “I particularly appreciated that one of the filmmakers is female, Nepali and that the story focused almost exclusively on women. I felt we heard voices we rarely (if ever) hear on film and were privileged to see inside families and a community. I think it’s beautiful”.

Do you think it is essential to study film making in order to become a successful filmmaker?

Not at all! Film institute’s feed you with limitations; it will somehow structure your brain to think in a certain way, which sometimes can be harmful. It is good to be disciplined and be true to a genre; however, it confines your creativity.

Filmmakers who have inspired you…

Stylistically and philosophically I am amazed by Abbas Kiarostami, Satyajit Ray, Pedro Almodóvar, and Wang Bing. Also I had the honour to meet Apichatpong Weerasethakul and Bela Tarr, I really look up to them.

A project that is really close to your heart…

Auntie Ganga, because of the proximity. I suffered a lot while making the film although it is just a 12 minute long video. I lived the lives of old people and in particular of Auntie Ganga for a month. This documentary has offered me many things both as a filmmaker and as a person. This will always remain close to my heart.

Advice to people doing their first documentary

Find the story that matters to you and be honest with it.