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.

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.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Excerpts of Notes Home from Sophie

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During our shooting time in Urthu-Chautara, even though we didn't have access to email, Sophie would write notes home while downloading footage, to be sent when we  returned to Jumla Bazaar. 

Here are some extracts:
 

27 February 2013

We finally landed in Jumla last Thursday after our plane to Jumla Bazaar was delayed.  After landing in Pokhara to refuel, (and steal a couple of shots) we took off from Pokhara airport, flew over the lake with the beautiful hill top temple and along the Himalaya.  The mountains were wearing deep capes of snow, which almost seemed close enough to touch and were shrouded in monumental sledges of thunderous cloud.  Our pilots discussed a particularly ominous bank that we were approaching and made the decision to return to Pokhara.  It was a quick decision and we were soon back at the airport to stay the night until the weather cleared.  Our extra afternoon in Pokhara meant some unplanned filming, which was useful, and an additional "last" dinner of meat!

We noticed when disembarking that there was an extra passenger - a woman who had been initially refused a seat because someone had made a mistake and oversold the flight in Kathmandu. The weeping and wailing had delayed the flight by an hour but we had assumed she had been turned away.  Since we were also massively over our excess baggage limit  - to the point where we were almost refused - we knew they had been very carefully weighing every passenger’s luggage to see if the plane could manage with the extra (large) foreigners and their extra large camera bags.    When we saw that she had been squeezed into the back of the plane we wondered how they had managed all of our stuff AND an extra person.  The answer was that they had decided to fly on less than a full tank of fuel.  My first thought was how marvelous that we had all got to fly, even with all our stuff and extra people.  The second was, hmmm… that doesn't leave much room for mistakes!  It certainly makes for a very different kind of journey than the 747 - but it is easily the most incredible flight I have ever taken.  When we finally took off the next morning the sky was cloudless, and we were treated to the most spectacular views along the Himalaya that I've ever seen. 




Arriving in Jumla Bazaar felt much less strange this time around - friendly faces were there to greet us and we soon packed a jeep and headed up the mountain pass to Urthu-Chautara, where we quickly moved into our old familiar rooms.  This year they had added a few more hooks in the wall (small things become suddenly important), correctly wired the light and added a nice mat to each bed, as well as laying some "carpet" which keeps the dust down a bit.  We can actually stand up in this house, which means both Miranda and I have a lot less head bruises than the first time around.  

The weather has been cold, but generally bright during the day. We're bundled up - it hasn't been bitter during the day time yet, at least.  We had one rainfall during the night, and though the hillsides are still coated in snow, we've not had any snowfall.  Generally, trudging up and down the hillsides with gear keeps one pretty toasty during the day.  I finally had a hot bucket wash last night, which was well needed, and we came armed with hot water bottles, which certainly makes bed time quite snug.  Soraj came down with flu a few days in, and has now mildly twisted his ankle, so our shooting days have been adjusted accordingly.  I've been a bit under the weather too, but am pounding the vit C and trying not to think about hot baths and lemon toddies.  There's plenty of hot spicy soup around though, so I've been drinking hot ginger water and feeling determined it won't turn into anything.  Thankfully the fried rakshi (local alcohol) is quite "medicinal" as it's got garlic and other unknowns and definitely helps sleep.  

Our original plan to travel back down to Jumla Bazaar in the middle of the shoot was hampered by our schedule and the logistics of the Jeep availability.  Apparently some road had become inaccessible and a few jeeps were stuck in another region.  Petrol was also scarce.  At the moment we've had no power for 24 hours, so batteries are low and we've been conserving our shooting, though I'm using the last of my computer battery to download the footage we shot this morning, so I'm taking advantage of that to sit and write for a minute or two.  It's starting to get dark, and it's really cold, but the hardy children are outside my window using their engineering skills to make a see-saw out of several large pipes that are intended for a local hydro power project.  Laughing little filthy urchins left to their own devices!


3 March 2013

Miranda and I tried pounding corn the other day - which was interesting to the whole village apparently, and we caused quite a scene.  They found our incompetence very entertaining.   It was a beautiful afternoon on a rooftop overlooking the whole valley - and the rhythm of watching other women do this task in pairs is very mesmerizing.  Our attempt was more like a comedy routine - and we only felt we had worked of a fraction of the rice that we've been gorging ourselves on the last couple of weeks.  Our hopes to become slightly high altitude slim have been dashed by the good cooking in this household, and the local potatoes, which are served deliciously for breakfast, elevenses, lunch, tea and dinner.  

Anyway - we've now got only one more day of shooting - and we've a got a few key interviews to cram in, so it shall be a busy day. This evening we showed some footage to Nisha's mum - who is really sad that we are leaving. I think our entertaining bideshi (foreigner) ways have brought a different kind of stimulation to the household.  They have been so welcoming and open. Meantime - we are also REALLY looking forward to a hot shower in Jumla Bazaar - which is probably where this email is coming from though it means the end of the shoot - and that's always sad.


5 March 2013

Tearful goodbyes today as I left Urthu.  Beautiful necklaces of Rhododendrum leaves, red tikkas and me sad to leave my lovely Jumla home.    Now we are back in the "big city" of Jumla Bazaar and have procured some whiskey and are slightly dazed by our room with sheets and pillows and carpet and doors tall enough to walk through without cracking our skulls. And Norbu, the proprietor of our hotel/building site is making apple pie for dinner.  And supposedly, roast chicken… Let's see how that turns out!!

Fingers crossed our flights are on time - the weather has been quite clear and bright the last few days but tonight some ominous clouds drew in.  (nice time-lapse though!)
xxx Love you all, talk to you soon.

Soph

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Jumla shoot III ~ behind the scenes

Urthu-Chautara, Jumla 
shoot III

We have just completed another two weeks of shooting in Jumla, this time exclusively in the village of Urthu-Chautara where we have now become a familiar sight on the high street. The shoot has gone really well and this time, knowing everyone that much more, we have delved deeper into the lives of our friends in this intimate mountain community. We are so grateful to everyone in the village for their warm welcoming hospitality and for sharing their daily existence with us.


Sophie balancing on the edge of a roof




view of village from the hillside



Nisha with her mother Rusu and aunt Bishnu in the kitchen



Nisha and Soraj
(his hair brought much joy to our shoot, occasionally being mistaken for a microphone)




Soraj very happy to have 'baby' (our nickname for the camera)
 
stand-off with a buffalo
the high street corner where it all happens...
...and a seemingly endless stream of donkeys


photo moment

Sophie found a camera assistant
Rusu wondering at our 'second sound' recorder complete with red fluffy wind shield

Khamani singing

We were bracing ourselves for the cold weather and the nights and mornings were pretty chilly when we arrived. However, it wasn't quite as cold as we were expecting  and when the sun came out in the middle of the day, especially walking around with all our gear, the layers started coming off.




Sophie was thrilled at the newest addition to the team, Missy



Soph thought it would be fun to try our hands at beating grain - much to the bemusement of the villagers...

...and our amusement too


men's work - women are not allowed to plough the fields (they just do almost everything else)


more irresistibly cute (and grubby) kids to take pictures of...

and kids to shoot too


We stayed with Nisha's family. The way they fed us you would think we arrived looking undernourished. Certainly not the case by the end of two weeks with a nightly pre-dinner serving of potatoes!

Hai Kali (Nisha's bauju or sister-in-law)


tea/nap break at the end of the shoot - have we worn our our team?

at least we have ducks in a line

Now with another shoot in the metaphorical can, we have another (rather large) batch of footage to review and eventually translate and transcribe. This journey continues to be a lengthy process but we all feel very lucky to be sharing in this experience. We are making something not only beautiful, but we believe, important too.

last day on the roof - plane spotting

the Shakti team! so much love!