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.

Prasna Dongol

Prasna always had a passion for photography. While doing her Bachelors in Film and Media at Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge- UK, she began taking photographs and filming more seriously. Then during her final semester, her tutor reviewed her short documentary. He told her that she had a good eye for visuals. This motivated her to continue filming and she bought her first DSLR- Canon 550D. Ever since, Prasna has been travelling, taking pictures and making documentaries. As an adventurer, she went on 23 day trek to Dolpa as part of the Solo Women Traveller contest. Her recent film Dolpo Diary won Best Adventure Mountain Film at Kathmandu International Mountain Film Festival (KIMFF) by Apa Sherpa Foundation.

The most important lesson you learned while at the film making institute?

One of the most important lessons I learned in university was the importance of building trust with your subject. The documentary filmmaking is more about trust between you and your subject (or participants) than it is about the right camera angle. As a filmmaker, we are always tempted to find great stories that sometimes we forget the ethical responsibilities we have towards the subjects of our film. It is of course not easy to get someone to open up in front of the camera unless you are working with an experienced actor. So it is crucial that you spend good time with the subject getting to know them and earn the level of trust you require to start filming. During the production days of “Struggle in K-Pop”, we visited the location multiple times and kept in touch with our subjects throughout. I think this definitely helped us to get to know them even better and vice versa.

What is the story behind your documentary Struggle in K-Pop?

The documentary Struggle in K-Pop is a collaborative work produced by Ulju Mountain Film Festival (UMFF) and Kathmandu International Mountain Film Festival (KIMFF). We were assigned to make a short documentary that depicts friendly relations between Nepal and South Korea. While looking for a perfect story to tell, the D.O.P of the film, Bryan Rai and I came across STRUKPOP’s page on Facebook. STRUKPOP is a seven-member K-Pop dance group from Nepal emulating their favourite Korean band, BTS. The group seemed quite active and had a great fan following. After going through their profile, we thought it’d be good to meet them in person and get to know them first hand. The first few visits went incredibly well. Hence we decided to follow their story.

How do you put together a documentary like this?

Most of the documentaries in Nepal are about serious topics concerning important issues, which are great! With our project, we wanted to try something different and fun at the same time. We don’t usually see many documentaries made about a celebrity or a struggling artist. We thought this would be interesting to film and also experiment along the way. While filming, we learned that our society wasn’t fully appreciative about their interests. Hence the film focuses on the struggle they had to go through in order to get to where they are today. But on the whole, it’s a fun documentary about young boys doing what they’re good at.

What challenges did you face while making this film?

I think the biggest challenge we faced is while getting them to talk in front of camera. All seven band members are camera shy. I didn’t want their interviews to sound scripted. In order to make them feel more comfortable and open up, we visited them as frequently as possible and filmed them during their practice hours. I think this helped a lot. The interviews later on turned out beautiful as we were able to unravel a beautiful story.

Filmmakers who have inspired you…

Werner Herzog, Les Blank and Albert and David Maysles and Kesang Tseten(first Nepali documentary filmmaker).

A project that is really close to your heart…

Dolpa Diary is one of the most reflexive pieces I’ve ever worked on. I was able to document some beautiful and heartbreaking moments of my travel.

Advice to upcoming filmmakers

To begin with, it doesn’t matter which camera you use or how expensive your gadgets are. Start filming even if it is from your phone and focus more on learning how to tell a good story. Also, keep in mind, audio is as important as your video. The audience can tolerate bad footage but cannot tolerate bad audio. Lastly, be mature when it comes to taking criticism.