Upcoming Shows

We've been named as a official selection in the Southern Circuit of Filmmakers Tour, March 17-24.

Shows are in Hapeville, GA 3/17, Madison, GA 3/20, Orangeburg, SC 3/22, Gainsville, GA 3/23, and Manteo, NC 3/24.
Learn more by going to the SouthArts blog.

View the theatrical trailer for A Gift for the Village

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Kathmandu Premiere: Jane on the 30th

June 30 from Jane

Our days are so full that we cannot remember which events happened two days ago. Before I could write this blog, I had to check in with Emerson, whose handsome burgundy handmade book from Jenna is the team’s best journal-record of our tracks.

We all go to sleep so tired that the effort to pull our sheets down at night feels like pulling back the rock slab to enter the dark cave.

TWO days ago was Jenna’s birthday. What a day! Three years ago on June 28th was the Festival of the Gift for the Village. This year, we premiered our documentary.

In the morning, we navigated ordering breakfast in the front courtyard of the Guest House. Ordinarily a blissful and sensible retreat, for a little while the courtyard was where the crow of madness happened to be perched. A sample: We would like a pot of ginger tea, please. Sorry, Madame, we don’t do pots. But just last night we had pots of tea! Sorry, Madame: what you want is not possible. Thirty seconds later, Reba comes out and says: May I order a pot of tea? Why not, madame? What you like? Then Jane tries to make a substitution, no fresh fruit but instead one scrambled egg. Two kitchen conferences are convened. The request is not possible. Why not, exactly? Explanation: we are not moving the items. Then a new waiter arrives, with a notepad, nearly manic: but what are your room numbers, and is your breakfast included with your room? We don’t know. We are all happily surprised that each room is approved as breakfast-included, until Mika names her and Ashleigh’s room number, which is directly under Reba’s, and the same kind of room. Quick retaliatory answer: NO. No, Madame: you are NOT approved. Apparently Mika’s room is accursed, but probably only for that hour.

It is very sweet for me to see my half-Swedish former Virginia Tech student castigated to the realm of the inexplicably unapproved, only to smile with the pleasure of observing the mirage. Mika is doing a brilliant job on her first trip to Nepal. We are going to miss her sorely when she diverges from the group, to be driven up and over the valley, on her own, past Gurkha village, to Besisahar, the start of the horseshoe-shaped Annapurna Circuit—the favorite trek of the British Royals. As I write, Jenna is teaching Mika yoga on the Guest House Garden lawn, where Ashleigh was already up, practicing early, with the docile Guest House mother cat curled on the edge of her mat.

After breakfast, we were seated at the dignitaries’ table at Gurkha Encounters to review with Mingma Sherpa the trek tailored for our group: how many porters, where to bargain for the horse we’ll need just in case for Mary and/or Ella, where we meet our guide out west, and what vegetarians want to be sure the porters remember (no chicken broth in our ramen noodles, please). For lunch, we sang happy birthday at Pilgrim’s and ordered masala dosas (onionskin-thin lentil crepes bigger than the old New York Times with its pages open, rolled and stuffed with potato curry, with tomato and coconut chutneys, and rasam, spicy local vegetable soup). Jenna got chocolate-covered m&m pretzels and chocolate bars, among her birthday haul.

We visited our friend Sunil’s cashmere sweater and silk scarf shop and picked out unbelievable gifts, and only Jenna’s stern demand made Sunil accept any of our money.

Emerson and I visited Gem’s Empire, where a Nepali Muslim old friend of mine, Firoz, talked life and politics and religion with my lion-hearted son. They exchanged e-mail addresses, and made a connection heart-to-heart. I like doing business within the context of emotion. I also like bargaining when I see jewels that I could not have even dreamed existed. Only in our other friend Mr. Bhatt’s shop do we never bargain, because we are already taking his pieces at shameful friend-prices. But with Firoz, there is ritual bargaining, and it was a pretty struggle. I won, and so did he.

And then, in the late afternoon, our group reconverged at the Kathmandu Guest House for the world premiere of A Gift for the Village.

To be honest, I think no filmmakers anywhere in the world have ever had a richer and more satisfying and amazing film premiere than what we experienced. It was thrilling.

The Guest House Film Hall is relatively small, but the roster of attendees—let alone the responses after the film—held so many honors for us that I can say the feeling of that night will always rank among the most amazing times of my life, and I am sure for Jenna as well, and Tom, for you, too—our film shot straight home, like that arrow in Jomsom, a perfect bull’s-eye.

Who came? On her last night before leaving with her beautiful half-French, half-Tibetan daughter Clara Dolma, Anne Lelong, the accomplished photographer and patron of children in the rough western Nepali region on Dolpo. Maya, the street vendor, who is one of hundreds of poor trinket-sellers who are usually depicted as just the accosters of tourists, but who, three years ago, tried to sell Jenna little purses. Jenna, instead of brushing her aside, said to Maya: I am here for a week, and I will not buy these purses from anyone but you. Until then, you can greet me without trying to sell to me. We can just speak to one another as friends, and at the end of our trip, I will buy from you. Not only did Jenna keep that promise, but she accepted an invitation to Maya’s “house.” This kind of crossing of the boundaries almost never happens, but leave it to Jenna to have penetrated the veneer. That street-vendor, so easily a nobody in our experience, was at our premiere, and was introduced to everyone, and had a GREAT time. She LOVED A Gift for the Village, and we were so honored to have her sweet presence. Our guide Narayan was there (who is in the film in several shots), with his breathtaking young daughter, Nikita. The chief musician whose Nepali music plays in our film was there, BEAMING to hear his music. Several of the Guest House management were there, including Uttam, whose responses meant incredibly much to me personally. Cy Kassoff was there, my cousin, who translated for us when we were in the King of Lo’s Palace in 2007. Sunil Shahi was there, who is like family to us. Radhakrishna was there, the little boy we met on a walk in 2000, now a young man. A Swiss couple were there, who had heard about our film. Our new friend Helen, a world traveler from Portand, Oregon. Mingma Sherpa was there, representing Gurkha Encounters, whose Buddhist roots and home near Boudhanath stupa made him a formidable audience member, if anyone were going to see inauthenticity in any little moment of the film. Our team was there. My son was there. My girl Iris was there in spirit. And others.

We were overwhelmed by the emotional responses to A Gift for the Village. People loved the story, loved the art, loved our connection and tribute to Virginia Tech, loved hearing the reasons for our dedications, simple LOVED our film.

I got some of the strongest hugs I have ever gotten, and Jenna and I were showered with the heartfelt thanks of people whose hearts we love and admire.

In our documentary, Jenna speaks at one point about what it was like for us to bring a painting about Nepal to Nepalis, potentially quite a critical audience. And at the premiere of our film about Nepal, in Nepal, with many Nepalis of so many different backgrounds in our audience, I really found so much joy with Jenna, and Tom with us in spirit, and all of our family and friends who have followed our long efforts to make this story possible—so much genuine joy in being the bearers of A Gift for the Village.

Let me speak for a moment about the dedications in our film. The film is dedicated in four parts: for His Holiness the Dalai Lama of Tibet, who turns 75 this year in July; we are so grateful for His blessings to our project. For the great people of Nepal—and they ARE great. I have traveled here for 25 years, from the time BBW (before bottled water), to now, the time ACP (after cell phones)—and I know some of the sad shorelines where some parts of the old culture are weathered and eroded day by day, choked now from the polluting grip of industrialization.

I have one friend who has always been my teacher by doubting the effect of my being here at all: as if by being here, I AM inevitably the degradation and the pollution of what I encounter. Maybe. But I believe in bridges, and in right livelihood, and in the power of ambassadorial presence. The great people of Nepal have made us all rich, but I think that Jenna’s and Tom’s film is a real gift in return, and as Georgia O’Keeffe has said, To see takes time, like to have a friend takes time.

The film is also dedicated to our friend Cindy Goad, who died before our team traveled here in 2007. Her sister is our team’s still photographer, Sherrie Austin. We miss you here, Sherrie, and we remember Cindy. Her gorgeous smile, her stunning heart.

And our film is dedicated to my beautiful student Morgan Harrington. Morgan’s ashes are going with me wherever I go, and I will see to their ritual honor in the west of Nepal, where she had wanted to travel with us. I miss you, Morgan, but you are with us. To Morgan’s parents, Gil and Dan, I am with you. And your story has moved the hearts of our dear friends in Nepal. We are proud to be arm-in-arm with you.

After the film, we rickshawed to Sunil’s house. Rickshawing through Kathmandu is like bicycling in an acid trip (I do NOT speak from experience). The feast at Sunil’s was the greatest birthday party Jenna could ever have been given. A thousand appetizers, ten thousand dishes, and uncountable joys. Sunil’s daughter-in-law Arundhati is due to have Sunil’s first grandchild on my birthday (July 26). Yet she cooked with Sarita and made us feel so much at home. Jenna had a huge birthday cake and, from Sunil’s rooftop, a view of a spotlit Swayambhunath stupa against a starry Kathmandu valley sky.

As we walked back to the Guest House from Sunil’s, down alleys where no tourist walks, we saw the Kathmandu that the locals still own, the women asleep on burlap in the cool of the evening, the boys talking around small fires, the street dogs finally at ease (except for the one who did not love Mika). I saw Ashleigh walking ahead and thought how glad I am for this incredible 25-year-old to be taking in the real Nepal, as unlikely as it is for any foreigner to have gained such access, and as representative as the city can be of a mostly utterly rural Himalayan country. As we walked, a car came by, and it happened to be Raj Bajgain, our friend, and a leader of social causes in Nepal, a champion for women, children, the destitute, and the environment. He rolled down his window and pointed to Jenna, giving her one last amazing birthday gift. With his bright smile, he said, simply, “Big film maker!”

And though we had a really late night, and fell to bed dizzy, we had the desk give us wake-up calls for 4:00 a.m. Sunil arranged three cars, and all of us, and Sunil and his wife Sarita, and our Oregonian friend Helen, headed the hour and fifteen minutes up to the rim of the valley. In peak season (October to January), the views from Nagarkot village on the rim of the valley are stunning panoramic Himalayan eye-candy. Our view was more a landscape of sweet fog and hill, with a two-hour walk through pine forest, cicada song, mica and black tourmaline-encrusted rock, fern and rhododendron, wild marijuana and canna lilies, red hibiscus and tall ageraturm, oversized lantana and mango trees. I loved walkin g with Mary, telling her about geology and flora and fauna, and how learning a new culture impacts the way your imagination works from now on. On a side-trail with Cy, Emerson noticed a dog acting unsettled and staring at a bush. No wonder. Out emerged a long black cobra, the length of two trekking poles, moving to his destination at leisure. Lions can be kings, but so can cobras be. Well done to Emerson for reading the dog’s behaviour and stepping back before the appearance of the snake.

We walked to the oldest temple complex in the valley, Changunarayan, with its famous carved god and goddess struts on the famous ancient wooden and brick Newari pagodas (pagodas originated in the Kathmandu Valley, not in Japan). What a walk, to what complex clusters of shrines, old and worn down from the worship-smudges of red and yellow tilak powder, like the stone shrine of Hanuman, the god whose mother was a monkey and whose father was the wind: Hanuman’s monkey face is now a soft unfeatured formless bald of stone, eroding for reasons of centuries of loving touch.

I will stop for now. A girl can’t keep writing when Mr. Bhatt’s Tibetan stone shop is so close by. Our team sends love to each of you reading. We head to Pokhara if the cloud-gods agree on July 3rd, are there for three nights at Hotel Kantipur (Google it! We get a big friend-discount), and then move to high country, where the spirit of Tibet still lives despite the new roads and clog of vehicles we are hearing spoils so much of the lower Annapurna trails, and despite fifty years of Tibetan occupation to the north. Thanks to everyone remembering us. Jane

No comments: