In 2014, when Belmaya Nepali started training in documentary filmmaking, she could feel her confidence steadily increasing. Introverted and reserved by nature, Nepali was able to express his feelings more candidly than before after receiving training from an institution based in Pokhara.
“This one-and-a-half-year training has changed my life. Not only did it teach me the basics of filmmaking, but once I signed up I became more confident. It boosted my self-esteem and I had the courage to speak out in front of everyone, ”says Nepali, 28.
Seven years after receiving the training, Nepali became an award-winning documentary maker. She has made four films to date, among which “I am Belmaya” (co-directed with British filmmaker Sue Carpenter), a documentary based on her life, is currently being released across the UK, in theaters, special screenings, and digital media.
Born in Lahachowk, an hour from downtown Pokhara, Nepali never imagined she would become a filmmaker. The youngest of six siblings, she lost her parents when she was only nine years old. Due to the precarious economic situation of her family, she lived in a girls’ house in Pokhara. It was there that she learned photography, which Nepali says paved the way for filmmaking.
“I was 14 when I first picked out a camera. It was a magical moment for me when I was able to capture images with the camera. The joy of taking pictures and controlling what I wanted to click gave me a feeling of freedom, ”says Nepali, who was trained by Carpenter.
With a camera in hand, Nepali embarked on her journey to become a photographer. Nepali’s photos encompassed a range of subjects, from the snow-capped Annapurna Range to the ordinary people she met. She began to document all of the intriguing things that crossed her path.
In 2007, a book called “My World, My Views” published some of her photos, which further motivated her to take photography seriously, she said in a Zoom interview with the Post.
However, the Nepalese got married in 2011 and could not continue his passion for photography. Later, when she became a mother, she became absorbed in family matters.
In 2014, Nepali took back a camera when she met Carpenter, who tracked it down during one of her visits to Pokhara.
“With his advice, I took the camera back. But this time it wasn’t just for taking pictures. I was enrolled in a documentary filmmaking course, which took me on a film journey. I started to enjoy the process more because I could now tell people’s stories, as well as their struggles, more effectively through films as a medium, ”explains Nepali.
For her final project of the training program, Nepali made her first film, “Educate Our Daughters”, in which she addresses the issue of girls’ education in Nepal. The subject she chose for her first film was personal, says Nepali, as she wanted to explore the obstacles of young Nepalese girls and their education.
“Due to many challenges that hindered my path to formal education, I was unable to study. Whenever I saw a girl or a woman speaking in English, I found it funny. It strengthened my commitment to describe what girls’ education in Nepal looks like and how it has helped them excel in their lives, ”explains Nepali.
While this was her first experience as a filmmaker and she was still learning the craft of a filmmaker, the film was appreciated by audiences for its honest portrayal and it was even premiered in de numerous international film festivals such as the Chicago South Asian Film Festival, UK Asian Film Festival and the Toronto Reel Asian Film Festival.
From that point on, Nepali began to navigate the world of cinema, and in 2018 she directed her second film, “Rowing Against the Flow”: a documentary about women in a boat in Pokhara’s Lake Fewa. . The Thomson Reuters Foundation commissioned the documentary.
She then made another film called “Stronger”, which also dealt with the theme of the resilience and power of Nepalese women struggling against the patriarchal fabric of our society.
While these films occupied the Nepalese, it was her fourth documentary, “I Am Belmaya”, to which she devoted most of her time and effort. The documentary presents 14 years of her life and sums up the pain, joy, struggles and achievements she has faced over those years.
The film was released this year and received critical acclaim around the world.
“The film is a moving look at the painful reality faced by Dalit girls in contemporary Nepal, as well as the breathtaking achievements of the Nepalese,” Phoung Lee wrote in a review of the film published this month in The Guardian. .
Nepali says she is overwhelmed with joy at what the film has been able to accomplish. But to get to where she is, it wasn’t a smooth journey. She shares that she had to face many obstacles while filming the documentary.
“My family members weren’t happy when they saw me with a camera or when I was shooting for my movie. They said that I shouldn’t become a filmmaker and that I should devote my time to caring for my daughter. The documentary was deeply personal and therefore required capturing all of my family’s raw and vulnerable visuals, but they were also not cooperative about it, ”says Nepali.
It took a lot of effort to convince them, and with Carpenter’s support, her own willpower, and the skills she learned, she was finally able to bring her inspiring story to the screen. When asked what motivated her on her journey to achieve “I Am Belmaya”, Nepali said it was the greatest need she felt in her heart to share her story as she thought her film might inspire more women to follow their passion while she did.
“The cinema gave me independence. It made me powerful because I found a way to tell my story and get my voice back. The happiness I feel to be able to pursue my interest is magical. And I want every woman to feel that. I want them to pursue their dreams, and through my story, I want to inspire them, ”explains Nepali.
While the film premieres in Nepal, she says Nepalese audiences can watch the full documentary in December of this year. She’s thrilled that this is happening, she said.
“When I organized a screening in my village, everyone’s faces lit up when they were touched by my film. I hope I can create the same experience for other people who watch my film, ”says Nepali.