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.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Kyrgyzstan - scout & shoot I - in pictures/behind the scenes

Gulkaiyr, our amazing translator and guide who took the best care of us and found all the characters we needed - she is an absolute godsend and we love her!
And Sophie with 'the kid' - the 5D camera that was a bit like having a teenager on the team. 

Kyrgyzstan is proper horse country - and there are statues of horses everywhere just in case you didn't already realise that.

a beautiful young wife liviing with her extended family in a caravan in Tash Rabat for the summer season. the baby is hers and the rest are her husband's niece and nephews.

the whole family and us after the interview

mountains and horses - quintessential Kyrgyzstan

a very cute lame lamb & me

young rider showing off his horse prowess at the animal bazaar in At-Bashi

we knew there would be snow but we weren't quite expecting to be shooting in a blizzard!

Sophie and I can't go and shoot somewhere without having to traverse waterways

we were very privileged to be offered the sheep's eyeball - the highest honour

need i say more?

it's a lot easier for horses to cross rivers

at least it wasn't snowing here

unwiring the old man - the father of one of our main characters - i think he was quite happy to have me fiddling underneath his coat

the lone donkey - at the front of a huge herd of sheep, cows & horses

Lake Issyk-kul - the girls had just had a very cold skinny dip

on the other side of Lake Issyk-kul - a long anticipated 'day off' and beach day in the sun for the team

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Next round of post-production: new Shakti girls

After our flurry of activity with the Shakti girls last spring, the second half of last year was taken up with other pursuits such as earning money and trying to raise money. 

With the triumphant première of Talking to the Air at KIMFF, I excitedly told everyone there that Daughters of the Curved Moon would be premiering at the next KIMFF in December 2015.

So time is of the essence to finally get the cut complete. Luckily, I reconnected with two old friends, Vikas and Kiran, who had come to the Talking to the Air première. They were  just opening a new studio, Rise Global - a modern new space with a recording studio and editing suite, with their friend Sashi.

Kiran, Vikas & Sashi from Rise Global Studios

 The guys from the studio told me I should come and edit my film at their facility...

I installed FCP 7 on the iMac at the studio...

And I can plug my laptop into the second screen to actually edit and see what I'm doing!

 Meanwhile, I had connected with Sabina, one of the few female Nepali editors in town. She was interested in the project but has a full time job. Initially I thought it couldn't work as she works six days a week, but she is a dedicated worker and offered to come on Saturdays and some evenings a week.

And then my friend Greg introduced me to Mili, another female editor here in Kathmandu and she was also interested in the project! And so my team was coming together. The girls are both working out of the studio and things are taking shape. The idea that we could possibly finish the film in time for the KIMFF deadline is becoming a feasible possibility!

I love my girls and they are excited about the project and understand my vision, so I'm hopeful that between us we can get a cut done - which we can then pass to Sophie to do a final pass and polish on...

I've been pinching myself that I have two editors (who happen to understand the footage because it is in their native tongue) and a post-production STUDIO to actually finish the film.Could the end of post-production be in the (distant) sight? And could we really be premiering our film (after four years) at KIMFF this December?

We will have to see but it is certainly possible...

UPDATE: The earthquake put a stop to all work for almost 6 weeks. On 12 May, just as things were getting back to normal, Mili had returned to the studio to resume work and was actually there when the quake came! Luckily she was fine - and the studio is also intact. Editing has resumed, although we lost a lot of time, we shall keep moving forward and see what we can achieve.

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.