11 - 17 December 2015 #786

KIMFF 2015

This year, the Kathmandu International Film Festival (KIMFF) may have surpassed itself
Sophia Pande

This year, the Kathmandu International Film Festival (KIMFF) may have surpassed itself, at least based on the films this reviewer was given access to.

Serdhak - a Nepali feature film set in Jomsom, is a folky, funny, tender tale about a young man, Lhakpa (Tsewang Rinzin Gurung) who returns to his village after studying in Kathmandu. Village life sucks him in, and he quickly falls into a rhythm, teasing his sister, providing emotional and physical support to his mother, and trying to pre-empt the already too far gone, albeit quiet, alcoholism of his father.

Events conspire to keep him in his home village, working the fields, even as more people around him choose to abandon traditional livelihoods as they move to America - jumping at the chance of a less grueling life, rather than eking out an existence as subsistence farmers.

Slowly, along with Lhakpa we rediscover the simple pleasures and the real hardships of life in Upper Mustang, even as we are smitten by the beauty of the landscape which has been captured to perfection. Directed by Rajan Kathet, Serdhak - The Golden Hill conveys, without histrionics, the very real bind that almost every Nepali is facing today -- to stay, and struggle against the odds or to leave and try to find a better life elsewhere, even if it means losing your culture and being separated, indefinitely, from your family.

Serdhak is a sensitive, thoughtful film, and while the acting is not always up to par, the actors (all of whom faced cameras for the first time) are so charming in their portrayal of the characters that one feels compelled to stick with them.

Often, films press for drama and story, with twists and turns that are too absurd to take seriously. This is not one of those. Serdhak affects you with its quiet attempt at neo-realism, in my mind the right step in the direction towards creating true independent cinema.

Tashi and the Monk - a documentary by Johnny Burke and Andrew Hinton is another charming, but also heart-wrenching film showing at KIMFF this year. It chronicles the valiant attempts of Lobsang Phuntsok, a Buddhist monk who has returned to the hills of Northern India to open Jhamtse Gatsal - The Garden of Love and Compassion, a children’s home that hopes to help and rehabilitate those children who are either unwanted or cannot be taken care of by their families.

Phuntsok, his team, and the children they care for in the setting of the green Indian foothills make for a strikingly unforgettable series of vignettes that outline the extraordinarily difficult task that is helping emotionally vulnerable children - a little girl named Tashi in particular being the subject here.

The makers are able to give us an unaffected account of the inner lives of the children at Jhamtse Gatsal - a testament to their skill and patience, and while Phuntsok is clearly a profoundly compassionate man, he still remains a bit of a cipher to this viewer at least - adding a layer of complexity to this must-see film.

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Mountain cinema