Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Review of "Returned" Published in American Anthropologist

Film Review.

Returned: Child Soldiers of Nepal’s Maoist Army. Robert Koenig, dir., Robert Koenig and Brandon Kohrt, writers. 30 min. and 60 min.
Baltimore, MD: Adventure Production Pictures, 2008 and 2009 (60 minute version)

Northwestern University

This first-rate documentary tells the story of the civil war between the Maoist People’s Liberation Army and the government army of Nepal, which began in the mid-1990s and continued until a peace agreement in 2006. The film focuses on human rights and social welfare issues at the heart of the story: recruitment of children by an insurgency and social rehabilitation of children after the war. Children are signifiers in the film, like canaries in coal mines, of wider political and economic crises in Nepal. The seemingly exotic subject matter of civil violence and child soldiers in faraway “Shangra-la” confronts the viewer with broader questions about adult exploitation of the social dependency and cultural plasticity of children -- especially children at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder.

The “voices of the victims” are foregrounded – an ethnographic emphasis characteristic of anthropological research on violence. The word “victim” is appropriate here in both moral and legal senses, e.g., international standards proscribe recruiting children under18 for combat, and recruiting children under 15 is a war crime. Dramatic intensity in the film is generated by juxtaposing victim voices with voices of authority – such as, leaders of the insurgency, government officials, journalists, scholarly experts, as well as national and international welfare organizations working with former child combatants. In one interview a spokesperson for the Maoist insurgency denies that children were used as combatants – a statement then mixed with film footage of children carrying guns or engaged in battles, as well as footage of interviews with children describing participation in battle or seeing former playmates killed.

The superb picture and sound quality of the film captures both the lush beauty of the Nepalese landscape of mountains and valleys as well as the sounds of battles, military ceremonies, and political speeches. The technical quality of the film intensifies the formal tension of the narrative’s contrast between poignant natural (and human) beauty versus political violence and the exploitation of children.

By skillfully weaving together interviews with scenes of battles, violence in the streets, rebel group cultural programs for youth as well as a short photo narrative of feudal kingdoms in Nepalese history, political and ideological complexities emerge. Why is an insurrectionary movement against an oppressive, dictatorial government called a “terrorist” group, and what are the global politics legitimating that designation? How do we understand the contradictions between revolutionary idealistic doctrine and human rights abuses carried out in its name?

The film brilliantly captures the blurred line between “choice” and “forced recruitment” of children, which is a basic analytical problem in the anthropological study of child soldiers. Consider three, short examples. Ashish says he “joined” when he was 14, but his story describes being tricked into a rebel sponsored excursion for school children to a very distant place where children could not find their way back. Ashish’s father succinctly sums up the violent logic limiting the options of civilians and their children: if you fulfill the Maoist demands for food (or children), the government army will punish you; if you do not, the Maoists will kill you.

Maya explains that she “joined” when she was around 12 years old. Her mother begged the older women in the insurgency not to take her daughter, and pleaded further that they take some other girl in the village. From the mother’s point of view, neither she nor her daughter had a choice about this recruitment. Poverty and lack of opportunities make young girls easy prey for forced recruitment, and make many children vulnerable to the political rhetoric of resentment and revenge. The film powerfully captures the economics of gender (as well as caste and socioeconomic status) in the recruitment of children.

The last section of the film focuses on post-conflict rehabilitation of child soldiers, and highlights the social contradictions in this well-meaning endeavor. For example, Asha, who was recruited when she was 13, reminds us that “reintegration” is more complicated than the warm connotations evoked by this post-conflict policy term. Asha was stigmatized and forced to marry when she returned to her village, and attempted suicide to escape the physical abuse of her husband and in-laws. The last image of the film – a tear on Asha’s youthful cheek combined with her painfully cracking voice – sums up the suffering of children who lost their childhood to the physical violence of civil war in Shangra-la and are vulnerable in the aftermath to the subtle structural violence of post-war society.

Monday, May 31, 2010


Jwojalapa! Namaste! Hello!

Season Shrestha invited Director and Producer, Robert Koenig, to show selected clips of his award winning documentary, "Returned: Child Soldiers of Nepal's Maoist Army" to guest in attendance of the Newah Organization of America's 9 th Annual Convention and General Meeting in the Washington, DC metropolitan area on Sunday May 30, 2010 from 2:00 PM to 10:00 PM.

The screening was followed by a short Q & A with Robert Koenig. For more information on where you can purchase a copy of "Returned: Child Soldiers of Nepal's Maoist Army", please go to http://www.der.org/films/returned.html

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

"Returned" to be screened at the 2010 Anthropology Film Festival at UBC

"Returned: Child Soldiers of Nepal’s Maoist Army" a documentary film directed by Robert Koenig is an "Official Selection" at the Fourth International Anthropology Film Festival.

The Ethnographic Film Unit in collaboration with the Museum of Anthropology hosts the 4th International Festival of Anthropology Films. Contact us at anthfilm@interchange.ubc.ca for further information.

This year's film festival will be held in the newly refurbished Michael M. Ames Theatre, Museum of Anthropology, UBC. April 30 and May 1, 2010. Festival co-sponsored by The Museum of Anthropology.

Museum of Anthropology
at the University of British Columbia
6393 N.W. Marine Drive
Vancouver, B.C. V6T 1Z2



Thursday, January 7, 2010

Full Length Version of 'Returned' Released by DER. Purchase Your Copy Today!

To purchase a copy of 'Returned' click on this link.

Returned: Child Soldiers of Nepal's Maoist Army

Directed by
Robert Koenig

Written by
Robert Koenig
Brandon Kohrt

color, 56:40 min, 2010

Institutional price includes public performance rights
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contact us for overnight shipping, purchase / international orders and rental / 16mm sales and rental

Imagine being forced to leave your family and fight in war you don't understand - and you are only eleven years old. Sadly, for many of these child soldiers in Nepal this is a reality and the peace process has not solved their problems. These children quickly discovered that the return home is even more painful than the experience of war.

Returned follows several Nepali child soldiers including Asha, a young Nepali girl, who was sent home from the Maoists' People's Liberation Army after the ceasefire. Asha joined the Maoist army when she was 14-years-old. For this young low caste girl, joining the Maoists was a pathway to a future with education and employment. Despite two years of being on the frontlines, her biggest concern was what would await her when she returned home. Would she turn to commercial sex work, become a domestic slave, or would she be banished from her home and forced into marriage?

Returned weaves the voices of Nepal's child soldiers, organizations working to help them, and military leader's from Nepal's opposing forces, who answer challenging questions about their use of childen as warriors.

“[Koenig & Kohrt's] parsimonious film carefully balances explanations and analysis offered by various professionals with scenes of Nepalese children involved in communist-inspired activities. Most telling, however, are young people's own statements about their experiences, statements which simultaneously reveal the rapport and trust established between themselves and the filmmaker.” — Society for Visual Anthropology

“This first-rate documentary... captures the blurred line between "choice" and "forced recruitment" of children, which is a basic analytical problem in the anthropological study of child soldiers. ...(Returned) raises broader questions about adult exploitation of the social dependency and cultural plasticity of children - especially children at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder.” — William P. Murphy, Department of Anthropology, Northwestern University

Film Festivals, Screenings, Awards
Best Short, Children's Advocacy 5th Annual Artivist Film Festival, Hollywood, CA, 2008
Best Student Work, Society for Visual Anthropology Film, Video and Interactive Media Festival, 2008
Best Documentary Short 2008 Atlanta Underground Film Festival, 2008
CARE Film Festival, Johannesburg, 2008
Himalayan Film Festival, Amsterdam, 2009
Document 7 - International Human Rights Documentary Film Festival, Scotland, 2009
Days of Ethnographic Film, Moscow, 2009
Children & Armed Conflict: Risk, Resilience & Mental Health Conference, Washington DC, 2009 (long version)
Association for Asian Studies Annual Meeting, Philadelphia, PA, 2010

Related Links
To purchase a copy of 'Returned' click on this link.
Returned's official website

Monday, December 7, 2009

Nepali Ambassador to the U.S. gives Award of Appreciation to Robert Koenig and Brandon Kohrt

Dec. 06, 2009 was celebrated as the International Human Rights Day by Human Rights Organization of Nepalese in America in Towson, MD. His Excellency Ambassador to the United States of America, Dr. Shankar Sharma was the chief guest of honor. Robert Koenig and Brandon Kohrt were special guests of the event and discussed issues related to their work to further human rights and child advocacy in Nepal and the United States.

Photos by Bishwa Raj Thapa. Dec. 06, 2009
The Nepali Ambassador to the U.S., Dr Shankar Sharma, giving an Award of Appreciation to Robert Koenig for his Extraordinary Contribution and Dedication to the Nepali Community.

The Nepali Ambassador to the U.S., Dr Shankar Sharma, and Kiran Pantha of HURON- USA giving an Award of Appreciation to Dr. Brandon Kohrt for his Extraordinary Contribution and Dedication to the Nepali Community.

Robert Koenig and Dr. Brandon Kohrt discussing a child soldier's story that was featured in the film "Returned: Child Soldiers of Nepal's Maoist Army".

Posing with Famous Nepali Folk Singer Prem Raja Mahat.

Robert Koenig, His Excellency Ambassador Dr. Shankar Sharma, and Dr. Brandon Kohrt

Friday, November 20, 2009

"Returned: Child Soldiers of Nepal's Maoist Army" to be screened at the National Academy of Sciences Institute of Medicine

Children & Armed Conflict: Risk, Resilience & Mental Health

Tuesday December 8th at 12pm

National Academy of Sciences
Institute of Medicine
2100 Constitution Avenue NW Washington, DC US

Conference Information:
This is an international and multidisciplinary conference addressing the developmental and mental health needs of children in conflict-affected settings.

The conference highlights the complex interaction between risk factors, psychopathology and mental health with resilience as an important moderator.
Traumas associated with armed conflict, deprivations, displacement, and related losses increase children’s risk of developing mental health difficulties. However, children have great potential for resilience. The international community has the responsibility to foster their strengths and help them outgrow the impact of war.

Screening Information:
“Returned: Child Soldiers of Nepal’s Maoist Army” will be presented by the filmmakers Robert Koenig & Brandon Kohrt on Tuesday December 8th, 2009 at 12:00 - 12:45pm. The film will be presented during the second part of the conference that focuses on characterization and experiences with children traumatized by armed conflict, including a special section on child soldiers.

Other Information:
The specific goals and objectives of the conference are:

- Provide a forum for dialogue and interaction
- Consider the current evidence base for programming
- Highlight issues of concern
- Discuss and develop specific initiatives of mutual interest

Venue and Date:
The conference convenes December 7-9, 2009 in the Auditorium of the Institute of Medicine - National Academy of Sciences at 2100 Constitution Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20418.

This conference interests a broad audience including: academics, children’s advocates, human rights, and post-conflict development groups/organizations, government officials, military personnel, mental health professionals, researchers and policy makers.

Registration Fee:
A $75.00 registration fee will be charged to cover cost of food, materials and administration.

For more information go to the Children & Armed Conflict: Risk, Resilience & Mental Health conference brochure or the registration page online.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Brandon Kohrt Creates Award-Winning Film

From Emory University's Department of Anthropology Newsletter

Brandon Kohrt received his PhD from Emory Anthropology and his MD from Emory’s School of Medicine in 2009. During his fieldwork in Nepal, Brandon collaborated with filmmaker Bob Koenig to create an award-winning documentary film, Returned: Child Soldiers of Nepal’s Maoist Army. Brandon shares some thoughts on his work in Nepal and the creation of the film below.

"As anthropologists, we often find that our work is relevant to a range of audiences and has implications for social justice issues. One of the challenges is to find ways to bring these issues to the attention of broader public audiences. During my dissertation research, I faced exactly this challenge. After a few months of fieldwork in Nepal, I learned that there were large numbers of child soldiers being sent home from the Maoist Army after the conclusion of the People’s War in 2006. I had not even known that child soldiers existed in Nepal. I had thought of child conscription as predominantly a human rights violation in African conflicts. However, the mental health and psychosocial care of former child soldiers quickly became central to my research and intervention work.

The former child soldiers revealed how their experiences and major concerns were often different from the stereotyped image of child soldiers in other conflicts. Asha, a girl from a Dalit Hindu caste in southern Nepal, described how she became associated with the Maoist People’s Liberation Army (PLA) -- “I was born into a poor family.” She pointed to a few pounds of cornmeal and then the one goat outside her thatched hut, “We just have this much, nothing more. I was a very good student [but] my parents told me: ‘We have no money so you have to leave school and take care of your brothers and sister.’” With few economic resources, Asha’s mother decided to pay for her brothers’ schooling rather than “waste money on a girl’s education.”

With no hope to pursue an education in her village, Asha was drawn to the Maoists women’s brigades traveling through her village. They promised girls an education and the opportunity to live in a Maoist society where men and women are treated equally. “I was 13 years old when I joined the Maoists,” Asha told me. The Maoist Army was comprised of many young women like Asha, the majority of whom joined voluntarily. For Asha and other girl soldiers, the most difficult part of being a soldier came after the war was over when they returned home. Former child soldiers, especially girl soldiers, returned to communities where they were feared, stigmatized, and vulnerable to myriad abuses.

While doing this work, it became important to find a way to tell the story of child soldiers in Nepal to reveal the complexity of the situation behind why children became soldiers and the difficulties they face even after the war is over. I had the opportunity to do just this thanks to independent filmmaker Bob Koenig, who wanted to transform the research into a documentary and bring the story of child soldiers to broader public audiences. Bob and I spent over a year collaborating on the documentary Returned: Child Soldiers of Nepal’s Maoist Army. The documentary focuses on Asha and the lives of other child soldiers when they returned home after the war ended in 2006."

Brandon Kohrt is currently completing his residency with the Department of Psychiatry at Emory and serves as Mental Health and Research Technical Advisor with the Transcultural Psychosocial Organization Nepal, a Nepali NGO engaged in psychosocial care of survivors of war and other human rights violations. Returned has played at numerous festivals and won awards including Best Child Advocacy Documentary at the Artivist Film Festival in Los Angeles, Best Student Documentary from the Society for Visual Anthropology, and Best Documentary Short at the Atlanta Underground Film Festival. Returned will be shown this fall by Emory’s Anthropology Department and is also available at the Woodruff Library. For more information and to watch a trailer, see the film’s website.