There seems to be some confusion about the Kathmandu International Mountain Film Festival. Why is the so-called 'mountain' film festival not ostensibly simply about mountains? And there is the additional accusation that the desire to celebrate mountains is merely a twisted indication of our North-centric national consciousness, something that cannot be taken lightly in this period of Southern dissent.
If you saw the films for this year's edition of KIMFF, though, you would realise that mountains are just a pretext to explore human diversity-a diversity that is characterised by the multiple ways in which humans confront adversity and relate to their world.
In Sasha Snow's Conflict Tiger, shrinking habitats for tigers in eastern Russia and the desperate post-Soviet human economy have forced these two predators into a deadly competition. In this snow-covered Siberian landscape, unwelcome contacts between the beasts and the locals have increasingly resulted in gory, ill-fated circumstances. The film revolves around the case of one notorious man-eater. Snow uses vivid re-enactments, cautionary words of the locals and raw footage taken by tiger expert Juri Trush to great effect. With the instincts of a horror film, this documentary is perfectly suited to these ecologically catastrophic times. The oft-simplified debates of conservation and animal rights get a more nuanced treatment here.
Terror of another nature haunts Blowing up Paradise, a BBC-produced film by Ben Lewis about the French nuclear testing in the Polynesian territories, particularly Moruroa. In the 1960s, an irrepressible desire for nuclear fame possessed France and compelled its authorities into an over-stretched flirtation with radioactivity. Starting from there, the director smartly probes the long history of France's relationship to a colonial possession that it converted into a militarised zone, the peculiar transformation of the archipelago into a nuclear economy, and subsequently the stunted but vital anti-nuclear independence movement of the region. The documentary is a must-see for its absurdly beautiful footage of the nuclear tests taken from maniacal proximity, as well as those scenes of cringe-inducing bursts of activism that played no small role in France's belated decision to end testing.
In a formula that is awfully familiar in the South Asian context, Manel Mayol's Switch Off documents the displacement and the fiery indignation of the Mapuche people whose land is flooded by the Spanish corporation Endesa in its bid to build a dam in Chile. This indigenous community has been forced to move higher up into the Andes with insufficient recompense and unfulfilled promises of free electricity. The struggle against Chilean laws and bureaucracy blends provocatively with the resistance to faceless global capitalism, not to mention global warming (as Endesa is a major contributor of greenhouse gases).
Afghan Muscles, by Danish filmmaker Andreas M Dalsgaard, does not deal will anything as desperate, although the characters in the documentary would probably disagree. Living in an economically strangulated nation, Hamid and Noor dream of fame and money through the sport of competitive bodybuilding. They struggle to have their nutritional requirements met and scrape together the cost of participating in the international Mr Asia contest. In the context of a prolonged conflict, these ambitions may seem trivial. But to these Afghan men, such bodybuilding exploits come to symbolise national strength.
The full schedule of 52 films at KIMFF starting next Friday will, like the films above, present diverse stories of human experience and engagement with space. KIMFF's compendium of themes and film genres is generally unmatched in Nepal.