There are stories about Nepal’s stolen children and the country’s third gender, skateboarders in Afghanistan, six blind Tibetan teenagers’ attempt to ascend Everest, and one man’s effort to save a dying language in Pakistan.
The Himalaya Film & Culture Festival (HSCF) in London, according to the organizers, offers a peek into parts of the globe that the Western world is fascinated about.
An annual event in London’s multicultural calendar coupling with cinema and arts and culture from the region, HFCF debuted in the British capital in 2010.
This year’s season formally opened on October 15 with “Beauty and Brains”, a documentary of Nepal’s third-gender community as the main feature, and will last until October 31.
“This festival helps to show a different face of the region,” said David Calvo, the head of films for the festival.
And “Beauty and Brains” does the trick. At a poignant time when Nepal is in a transitional phase and gender and identity issues being accentuated in the forefront, the documentary helped create a discussion after the screening among Nepalis and foreigners.
Catherine Donaldson, director of the documentary, said she wanted to break the over-sexualized stereotype of the Nepali third-gender community.
“So the beauty contest was a vehicle to talk about other things, mainly HIV/AIDS. I wanted it to be something else than prostitution angle,” Donaldson told about her project that focuses on a third-gender beauty pageant in Kathmandu.
People traveling to Nepal or tourists might never come across issues as such or even know of their existence.
Shubha Giri, one of the festival directors, said that the films being screened helps to breach the stereotypical image of the many countries in the Himalayan region—Bhutan, India, Nepal, and Pakistan, among others.
“We felt this festival was important to give an alternative view of the region,” he said.
There are 12 films being screened this year, which were selected out of 50. Four of them are from Nepal, including features with political inclination like “Dasdhunga” and “The Sari Soldiers.”
And this is how the movies are selected each year, according to Calvo: “Movies that try to represent every country’s different cinemas and aspects—social, cultural, political and topological.
It is through movies that the mass oftentimes gets acquainted to an issue or help dismiss any myth. It’s a great opportunity, as Giri says, for filmmakers to uplift their country’s image through their artistic craftsmanship.
“We want to showcase that times are changing [in the region]” he said. And indeed, it is.
India’s “Inshallah Football” paints a different picture of the people in conflict-ridden Kashmir; “The Alphabet Book” from Pakistan discusses the country’s culture and not terrorism; and movies like “Skateistan” and “Afghan Girls Can Kick” represent a positive aspect of the Afghan society despite the ongoing war.
Taran Wilkhu rightly summarizes the festival and its motive. “The Himalayan region is not only about mountains and monks,” he says. “There’s much more than that.”