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Movies and Bravery

Of Movies and Bravery

– Review of the talk by Daniel Lak of the BBC and in Nepali Times

It was anything but chilly inside the Russian Cultural Centre (RCC) earlier this month for the first ever Kathmandu International Mountain Film Festival (kimff). At times the atmosphere was downright heated, as film-makers from abroad found themselves raked over the proverbial coals for using Nepal as a backdrop for a French/Polish/Slovene/whatever feature film. But such outbursts were rare and generally good-spirited. By any measure, the festival was a roaring success. Its headline films, Genghis Blues from America, Mukundo from Nepal and the locally filmed but heavily French Caravan, were sold out well in advance. There were few seats available for the 40-odd other films on display at the rcc. Voted the audience favourite was Genghis Blues, a fascinating documentary about an American blues musician who develops a passion for the eerie, almost inhuman, throat-singing of the people of the central Asian land of Tuva. The blues man, Paul Pena, is blind and the film gets almost embarrassingly intimate with him as he travels to Tuva-somewhere between Mongolia and the middle of nowhere to take part in a throat-singing competition. Pena’s deep basso profondo lends itself perfectly to the lowest pitched type of throat-singing and he wins his category at the competition. He develops a passion for the Tuvan’s favourite tipple-fermented mare’s milk-and even performs a shamanic ceremony to exorcise demons whose influence is overshadowing the trip. If it all sounds a bit too exotic, it’s not. I’m still thrilled and troubled by many of the things I saw in Genghis Blues. It helped dispel my winter blues better than any peg of mare’s milk.

An important highlight Kathmandu International Film Festival was a talk by the great Indian mountaineer and writer, Harish Kapadia. He was booked by the festival organisers to speak about his pet project, the creation of a peace park in the Siachen region to balance the rival claims by India and Pakistan to the world’s most pointless battleground. But, on November 11, Harish Kapadia’s son, Nawang, was killed by infiltrating militants in Kashmir. Nawang Kapadia was an officer in the 3rd Gorkha Rifles of the Indian Army and he died fighting for his country, and trying to save the life of a Nepali soldier, Havaldar Chitra Bahadur Thapa. Sadly for me, I couldn’t attend Harish Kapadia’s talk to pay my respects and listen to his wise words, but trusted friends tell me that it was an immensely dignified and moving occasion. He had insisted on coming to Kathmandu despite his bereavement and he spoke with vigour and passion. “As a mountaineer and a lover of the glacier, ” he said, “I can only pray that the powers-that-be will listen to the anguish of the glacier and the soldiers serving on it.” Amen to that, Shree Kapadia, and my condolences and admiration to you and your family.

(By Daniel Lak: BBC and Outlook correspondent in Kathmandu.)

From OUTLOOK magazine 25 December 2000 issue.