The birth of Shakti PIctures

Shakti Pictures is a visual arts film company. Shakti means divine, creative power, often associated with female energy.

Shakti Pictures was formed in October 2010 in order to produce our inaugural project, Daughters of the Curved Moon (working title), a documentary set in the Himalayas of western Nepal. The film is about a community in Jumla; a portrait of a lifestyle and culture. We are looking at women's changing role in society in rural Nepal. The inspiration came from a group of village women who attended a training programme run by a local charity, Empowering Women of Nepal and the subsequent affect it had on them.

In November 2011 we completed the first segment of shooting. We returned in March 2012, February 2013 and August 2013 for further shoots, tracking the passage of time, how things are changing in the lives of our friends and in the community in Jumla. This blog is the story of our ongoing progress.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Talking to the Air premiering in Kathmandu!

When I first dragged Sophie to Nepal to shoot our film, Daughters of the Curved Moon, she came across a book in the old Pilgrim's bookshop in Thamel, Kathmandu, about the horse culture in the district of Mustang. Sophie has a company, Horsefly Films and they have been making a series of stunning documentary films about rare horse breeds and equine culture. Her interest was piqued and she started doing research about this mysterious place and its history with the horse. Every summer, they have a spectacular festival that celebrates horsemanship called Yarthung Festival in Lo Monthang and Muktinath. She decided to make a film about the event and the rich history of horsemanship in this fascinating region of Nepal.

The film is called Talking to the Air : The Horses of the Last Forbidden Kingdom

Last summer, August 2013, before the Shakti team returned to Jumla for the fourth and final shoot, three of the team - Sophie, Nisha and I - travelled to Mustang. Tales of this epic journey were recorded on my travel blog - and now we have the first part of the behind the scenes film version of the very same journey:


We were there with a partner company, Adventure Nepal and the wonderful Dipendra Bhandari, a film maker from Kathmandu that I've known for some time and his assistant Rajan. It was an amazing time shooting in Upper and Lower Mustang interviewing people about the festivals and about the horse culture in their communities. The terrain and geology is absolutely stunning. I took a lot of photos, some of which Sophie has cleaned the dust off and posted on the, Talking to the Air facebook page.

Sophie has been working hard on the edit this past year and the film is nearly finished. The  exciting part is we have having the world première - "official selection" no less - at the Kathmandu International Mountain Film Festival - KIMFF! It's the biggest film festival in Nepal and I've been attending the last few years - very proud to be part of the team - it's my first film in a festival too! And in my home town to boot!

We are now in the very last stretch of post-production and have launched a crowd-funding campaign to raise the finances to get it all finished to present at the festival. Check out the video - it has some cool clips from the film. It's really close to the wire now - this platform has an 80% minimum so we need to raise at least $6400 to get any of the money!

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Post post

Since we finished shooting, the journey of post-production has gone through various stages. This process is a lengthy one. The blog has lain dormant while we have been immersed in that undertaking - partly because there was no breaking news, and partly because my focus was on the work and keeping up blogs takes more time than one thinks.

I went back to Kathmandu this past spring,  joined by the newest member of the Shakti team, Emily. She came over from California to help with editing the rough cut. So along with Hindu, our translator (who has now been working on the project for nearly two years), and Nisha, we transformed my flat in Kathmandu into a little post-production house/flat. Our dear production manager, Soraj was also on hand to come and help with translating Jumli and generally bring smiles to our faces throughout that period.

It was a wonderful productive and creative time and I am, as always, so grateful that I have these dedicated people around me. Some days, I would be translating with Hindu while Emily was editing a sequence, or Em and Hindu would be subtitling a sequence while I worked on some other clips, or Nisha and Hindu would be revising the Jumli while Em worked on her machine and (as there were no other computers to work on) I would go shopping! Nothing like learning how to delegate!

my Shakti gals

Em working in the other editing suite (aka the kitchen)
During this period, we have been assembling the pieces of the puzzle, carving the edges so they fit together and flow as we develop the story we are presenting. There is so much amazing footage and so many directions to go in or ways to share these stories, it has been a big task simmering it down. Some days it felt so overwhelming and others so inspiring. As with the whole project, post-production is quite a journey.

interrupting the work flow

Hindu, Nisha & Soraj  - love these guys so much
After six weeks of the post-production bubble we've been in, it was time for Em to go back to California and me to return to London. And so now on to the next phase.

Saying goodbye  -

Understandingly, people keep asking me when the film will be finished. I would love to know myself! There is still much to be done and it could take as long as it takes, if not longer... Hope that clears it all up!

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Production update: that's a wrap!

Shooting is finished!

It felt strange leaving Jumla this time as up until now, we have always been coming back for another shoot. Saying good-bye and not knowing when we might return made our departure more poignant.

After three years planning and four shoots spread out over nearly two years, we have completed shooting. We have hours and hours of amazing footage. The challenge that lies ahead now is condensing it into the appropriate number of minutes.

People keep asking me when the film will be ready, to which I have no answer but can only speculate. The translation alone takes such a long time - and there is a lot of dialogue. And then the editing process... how long is a piece of string?

All I can say right now is that I am so proud of all we have achieved so far. It's been an amazing journey and learning process. It has been made so special by the incredible team I've had the pleasure and honour of working with for the past two years.

If we can transfer even some of the magic of this experience into this film, I know that we will have something pretty special on our hands.

Behind the Scenes: Shoot IV

This September 2013, the Shakti team - Sophie Dia Pegrum, Soraj Shahi, Nisha Budha and Miranda Morton Yap - completed shooting for the fourth and final time in Jumla. We have had an amazing time these past four shoots spanning nearly two years.

Here is a small selection of some behind the scenes pictures from shoot IV:

children in the corn

Aama came back and gave us tikas

Nisha & Soraj doing an impromptu performance, much to the surprise of the children

Nisha can nap pretty much anywhere

girls cutting grass after school

apple market day on the high street

the family practising before Teej Festival

Teej Festival

Miranda wears a sari for Teej - with Khamani & Rama

counterbalancing dogs!
final group photo of Shakti team - day before SDP & SS left

Sophie & Soraj's departure from Urhtu-Chautara - photo: SS

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Arrival in Jumla : The Usual Challenges

This is our fourth shoot. We have the routine down but have also become used to the unexpected inconveniences that arise. This is Nepal, after all. This trip, just getting there was a challenge.

The Shakti team were reunited in Pokhara after Sophie, Nisha and I had spent a couple of days resting following our Mustang trip. Soraj joined us there and the next morning the four of us got in a jeep bound for Nepalgunj. Our flight to Jumla was booked for the following day. The 'direct' flight (which actually stopped in Pokhara to refuel) had been recently cancelled so this was our only way of reaching Jumla.

The journey to Nepalgunj (about 12 hrs) went smoothly and we arrived in good time to find it raining. A nice respite from the sticky heat. The jeep was piled high with all our bags and we pulled up at the hotel, The Kitchen Hut, a new one we were looking forward to trying - we had stayed at Travellers Village before and its resemblance and smell of a forgotten 70s American motel was not tempting us back.

It was only after we'd unloaded the multitude of luggage from the roof of the jeep that the guy at the front desk thought it worth telling us that although we had reserved two rooms, they only had one available. This was because there had been no flights out of Nepalgunj that morning so people had stayed an extra day. They hadn't thought to mention this the repeated times they had called us throughout the day to find out when we were arriving.

pile of luggage and empty jeep in background
The hotel was offering to ferry two of us to another location and back in the morning but we wanted to all stay together, so eventually they booked us two rooms at the other hotel, Travellers Village!

The next day at the airport, after a few hours waiting around (as per usual), the bags were checked, excess baggage paid and we'd all gone through to the departure lounge. We were the last four to set out across the tarmac to the plane and we were suddenly informed that one of us would have to stay behind. The bags could all go but the plane could not accommodate all of us. A brief, fraught negotiation ensued  and eventually three of us boarded the plane, leaving Nisha on the runway, with only her carry on with her (which had all our snacks and various other items, but nothing useful for her to spend a night).  It was heart-breaking leaving her there on the runway as the plane pulled away and frustrating as there was an empty seat in front of us. Apparently it was to do with weight which seems ridiculous as she weighs less than our luggage!

As it turned out, they managed to put her on another flight with a different airline that afternoon. Her brother, Lal Singh, had been at the airport to greet all of us, so he hung out with us until she arrived and it suddenly became a great opportunity to film Nisha arriving back in Jumla - and so, shooting began!


The night before, in Nepalgunj, Soraj had informed us that the road to the village, Urthu-Chautara, where we were shooting, was not passable by jeep. There were a couple of places where landslides were blocking the road. We would have to walk and get porters or donkeys for the bags.

Because of this added element we planned to stay in Jumla Bazaar for the first night. Flying in from Nepalgunj, you never know exactly when you might arrive as the flights don't run on a particular schedule. And any time spent at Nepalgunj airport is quite tiring, so it seemed less daunting to stay in Bazaar and then we could set off in the morning after a night's rest.

The first night in Jumla Bazaar, we made the most of the all night electricity, making sure everything was charged and watching a movie. We had been fore-warned and were prepared for the inconvenience of no power in Urthu-Chautara. The generator in the micro hydro-power station had broken down and had been sent off in a jeep to be fixed. Apparently there had been no power for about a month. It turned out the generator had actually been fixed and was en route back but the jeep, that was transporting it from Butwal (far away), had then broken down!

It is about 5 km from Jumla Bazaar to Urthu-Chautara and roughly a hour and a half walk to Jumla Bazaar. Soraj's family home is in Bazaar, and as he was only back in Jumla for the two weeks of shooting, he was happy to go home most nights to charge the batteries and computers as it also gave him a chance to spend time with his family.

This was even more essential, as the night we arrived in Jumla, his wife gave birth to their second child, a beautiful girl!

The next day, Nisha, Sophie and I set off for Urthu-Chautara on foot. In the end, Soraj had organised a tractor to transport most of our bags. We insisted that he stay in Bazaar to spend more time with his family. It is a pleasant walk and we took our time, shooting a little on the way.

I must admit to having a lump in my throat as we came up around the final corner above the village. We were back!

Thankfully, from then on, everything continued smoothly. And in fact, by the time we had finished the shoot, the road had been fixed. The generator, thus the power, had been returned, which was lucky, as at the same time, the power in Jumla Bazaar went out due to a fault in their power house, soon to be followed by the phone lines, which in turn, meant all internet connections in Jumla!

Small inconveniences to remind us how tentative the infrastructure still is in places like Jumla.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Returning to Jumla : Fourth & Final

We are in Pokhara - me Sophie, Nisha and awaiting the arrival of the fourth member of our team, Soraj. Tomorrow we will all pile all of our stuff and selves into a jeep for the 14 hour drive to Nepalgunj. The convenient direct flight from KTM via Pokhara to Jumla no longer exists, so we must fly from Nepalgunj to Jumla.

None of us are too excited about the late summer heat that Nepalgunj will press down on us, or the enthusiasm of the mosquitos there, but hopefully we will get on our flight to Jumla the following morning so our time in the dusty border town will be brief.

Returning to Jumla at this time of year is going to feel quite different - at least in terms of the post-monsoon greener landscape. I suspect it will also feel different because we know this is our last shoot, the last time the team will work together in this capacity, possibly the last time all four of us will be in Jumla together.

Being our fourth time, the experience of shooting in Jumla has become so familiar to all of us. We know what we are doing, we are accustomed to the terrain now, we are returning to friends. For Sophie and me, it feels a little like returning home; for Soraj and Nisha, it is returning home (as neither of them lives in Jumla at the moment).

We know what to expect. But as with all documentary film making, we also don't know what will happen.

Following the shoot, we will be continuing with the translation process and getting deeper into the actual edit. A finished product still seems like a distant reality.

Sometimes it feels quite mind-boggling how much work lies ahead, but when I think of how far we have come, from my first visit to Jumla in May 2010, when I had the idea that we should make a film about the women I was watching dance around the training room - when I think about all we have achieved since that moment, my mind boggles even more.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Found in Translation

Jumla feels like a cinematic dream. Another world, far removed from the daily bustle of life in Kathmandu. The shoot in March is a distant memory until it comes to life on my screen as I work with my translators on the footage. We are slowly working our way through the new batch of hours of footage, painstakingly translating and transcribing - logging what everyone said in those moments so we can edit their words into our story.

When we first started this project, I have to admit, I didn't really quite think through the reality of making a film in a language I don't speak (sadly, my Nepali/Jumli is still very basic). This is not an issue that will ultimately hinder the making of our film, but it does mean that it is a slow process. A lot of time will be spent on translation.

When we are shooting it can be frustrating at times when conversation is flowing and we only have an inkling of what is going on. Usually Soraj is making notes, so I can peer over his shoulder to get a sense of the topic. But I would love to be able to really talk to the people. These are not just subjects in a film we are making, but many have become friends and family. It is amazing the bonds one can forge without a common language.

An interesting element of the process of translating is finding out things that were said, deeper levels of conversation, that were missed by us at the time of shooting. And somehow, neither Soraj or Nisha thought to tell us!  It is a journey I hadn't anticipated, delving deeper into situations we filmed, whilst sitting at my desk in Kathmandu. It feeds my inspiration as we go along and the ideas flow with a better understanding. Although slow-going, I don't find the translating process difficult or tedious in the slightest. It is so inspiring. I am working with bright, young women, Hindu and Sarita, who are clearly enjoying the process themselves as they find out more about the characters in this community - a world so different to the one they were brought up in growing up in Kathmandu. And as we review, me transcribing their translations, I'm finding out pieces of our story that I missed when I was standing right there. I am finding out what the footage actually holds beyond what we can merely see.