Documenting tragedies whether natural or manmade is difficult for a filmmaker. How do you tread that fine line between being inquisitive but not intrusive, especially at a time when the wounds are still raw for survivors.
Bhagyale Bachekaharu (Nepal Earthquake: Heroes, Survivors and Miracles) which last week won the Best Documentary Award at this year’s Kathmandu International Mountain Film Festival is an example of how to treat such subject matter with sensitivity and empathy and walk that fine line.
The film directed by journalist Ganesh Panday is not only an important documentation of the April earthquake that devastated central Nepal, but also a testimonial to the value of ethical reporting in the media. Using footage and photographs taken during the first few days after the disaster, and combining them with interviews conducted later with victims, their families and rescue workers, Panday has made a film that humanises the tragedy without being voyeuristic.
The characters and situations Panday’s film introduces to viewers are not unfamiliar to those who followed the earthquake’s aftermath. Many of their stories have been told on screen and/or in print before. What the documentary does is go beyond portraying them as victims.
Pemba Lama, the 15-year-old teenager who was rescued after being buried under rubble for five days, is like any other teen. He is awkward in his speech, and often smiles incongruously while narrating his tale.
Rishi Khanal, 28, who was rescued after 82 hours of being buried under rubble of a Gongabu hotel, we learn, is also a young father. His seven-month old baby was the reason why Khanal had applied to go abroad for work when he was caught in a collapsing building. The Khanal family is visibly broken at his fate.
You meet parents of a 14-year-old girl who had to make a tough decision to amputate her infected leg, a mother who is reunited with her four-month old boy after 22 hours, a father who is wracked with guilt for advising his daughter to drop, cover, hold during an earthquake. She died.
Then there are the tales of rescue workers Deepak Rai of Nepal Army and Laxman Basnet of Armed Police Force who led rescues that made headlines across the globe. Even poet laureate Madhav Prasad Ghimire shares his experience of living through two major earthquakes. Bhagyale Bachekaharu does right by the people whose stories it seeks to tell. It does not aim to sell the earthquake, rather remind us to be grateful about the little miracles that happen in life.
Josiah Hooper’s narration holds everything together beautifully. Editor Kumar Shah and consulting editors Sapana Sakya and Hooper deserve special mention for removing the rough edges and giving the film that fine polish and making it so beautifully crafted.
Bhagyale Bhachekaharu (Nepal Earthquake: Heroes, Survivors and Miracles)
Director: Ganesh Panday
Editor: Kumar Shah
Running time: 46 mins