Saturday, October 20, 2007

Blood in the Streets in the Town of Kathmandu

The people of Nepal are celebrating their biggest national festival, Dashain.
The 15-day annual religious feast marks the victory of the Hindu goddess Durga over a feared demon and symbolises the triumph of good over evil.

There are a wealth of rites in the goddess's name, and sacred grass is being grown in special pots all over the country to be used as a blessing this Sunday, the 10th and most important festival day.

Every Hindu home has been cleaned and decorated to welcome the goddess. The markets have been heaving as shoppers seek out new clothes and foodstuffs, and many thousands are returning to their home villages from the cities and from foreign countries to spend time with their families.

The festival is like Christmas and News Years to the Nepali people. The have Dashain parties at work, then the whole country is closed down for ten days. On the eighth and ninth days - Friday and Saturday - when hundreds of thousands of animals are ritually slaughtered as a sacrifice for Durga.

Visible in the Kathmandu traffic among all the shoppers are youths walking with herds of goats; motorbikes with live chickens dangling from the sides; and trucks crammed with buffaloes arriving from India. We even saw a goat on top of a bus the other day, sitting in the luggage rack.

Yesterday and today, and especially during the overnight in between, known as "Kal Ratri" or the "Dark Night", thousands of these animals as well as sheep and ducks will be slaughtered across the nation.

Yesterday morning, my landlord invited Scott and me to witness the slaughter of a goat that they had purchased from the market. There was a short ceremony in which the goat was offered some food and drink. After the goat eats they spray it down with water, hold it in place by it's head and legs, then the eldest son wields a khukhuri, which is a large curved sword. He swings the khukhuri downward towards the back of the goats neck, and in one blow, the goat's head is removed from the rest of its body. The worst part of this is that after the act is completed, the goat's eyes dart from side to side as its tongue continues to thurst back and forth. On the other side of the courtyard the rest of the body start to kick for at least another minute in a seemingly protesting fashion. The whole thing was a bit distrubing, but quick.

The goat will yield a feast of meat. But it is also said to have a religious meaning - the killing being a sacrifice to honor the goddess and prevent her anger in the year ahead.

An article in the Nepali Times weekly says most buffalos, like smaller animals, are decapitated but the bigger ones are battered to death with a heavy hammer on the forehead.

In Bhaktapur, near Kathmandu, pigs are skinned alive and their beating hearts offered to the temple, while in a nearby village people tear apart a live goat.
A quote from a Nepali man that was in a BBC article on this subject asks, "What kind of people take pleasure in such cruelty", even suggesting that a society which treats animals so brutally will be brutal to human beings too.

In fairness not every Nepali family sacrifices animals. My Nepali assistant, Prachanda and his family, sacrifice a coconut to keep in the spirit of the season. And after smelling goat blood, urine, feces, and burnt goat hair, I think I would enjoy the refreshing flavor of a Pina Colada, hold the goat meat please.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

First Days in Nepal

Week 1 and a bit
September 28 – Oct 3

Greetings from Kathmandu, as of this writing, I have been in Nepal for 9 days. Liz and I left Atlanta on September 28th at 7pm to start a daunting 31-hour journey half way around the world. We stopped off in LA for dinner and to check in with Thai airlines.

From LA we headed to Bangkok, Thailand, this was a 17hr flight, luckily I was able to sleep for a few hours to make the time pass. We arrived in Bangkok at 6am Sunday September 30th, since we had flown over the international date line, we skip Saturday altogether.

In the airport we met up with a woman who was also traveling to Nepal to see the baby she had been trying to adopt for more than a year. She had not been able to complete the adoption process due to the ever-shifting political situation in the Nepali government. She had shown us pictures of her daughter in a Nepalese orphanage over some Thai Iced Tea, Liz and I both felt for her. She seemed happy travel to Kathmadu once ever few months for a weeklong visit.

Walking through the Airport in Bangkok felt like a trip to the Lexus mall on steroids. Stores like Coach, Armani, Chanel, and every other designer you could think of was accounted for there. I felt like I have had a more authentic Thai experience at the Little Bangkok restaurant on Cheshire

At last we get to the Kathmandu Airport. After paying the $30 arrival fee and getting our visa, we head down to pick up our luggage. Then we wait, and wait, everyone else is gone, and we continue to wait. Eventually I figure that no matter how long I wait, our luggage isn’t going to appear. We fill out the forms and continue through customs with only our carry-ons (which for me was mostly computer gear and asthma meds) and the clothes on our backs.

Outside the airport we meet up with Brandon and his wife Christina. I tell Brandon about the lack of luggage issue, which prompts him to speak to the luggage complaint office (one guy with a notebook) on my behalf. After a bit of back and forth in Nepalese, Brandon turns to me and tells me that the complaint office guy feels 85% chance of hope that our luggage will come tomorrow on the next flight from Bangkok. We then head to Brandon and Christina’s apartment in Patan, across the river from Kathmandu. This is where I will be living for the next couple months.

After living in Mongolia and a frat house in Pittsburgh, I was prepared for the worst, but their apartment is very spacious, has electricity and solar warm running water. It has three bedrooms; the room that I am staying in has a private bathroom. There are a few things that are suspiciously missing, like a refrigerator, an oven, and a TV. But on the positive side, Brandon’s grant provides him with a woman who comes around to wash clothes, clean the apartment and cook a number of meals per week.

Kathmandu takes some getting used for foreigners; for instance, in the US there seems to be traffic rules and regulations, not so in Kathmandu. There are no designated lanes, no street signs, no cross walks, no infrastructure, just chaos. Cars, motorcycles, and bikes are constantly beeping their horns. The horn beeping isn’t used for emergency situations like in the US; it is more of a beacon or sonar to let other drivers or pedestrians know where you are and how fast you are moving.

People are constantly trying to sell you something, they’ll walk up to you as you walk down the street and make there pitch for you to buy some useless souvenir. There constant without being overly push or grabby, which is better that other places I’ve been to like South America. Eventually I learn to say the words for “I don’t need” in Nepalese, “Malai Chahina”. That works some of the time, but not really, you just have to keep walking and ignore your new persistent friend until they get tired of trying.

The next day we traveled to Bhaktapur with Brandon for a day trip. Bhakatapor is very different from Kathmandu. The main difference is that there is no traffic on the streets. The lack of traffic makes walking through the town a pleasure, however you still get the pushy sales treatment, which over the course of a day or so, you barely notice. Bhaktapur has cobblestone streets, peppered with Hindu temples and interesting agricultural offerings, and pottery set to dry in the sun. We enjoyed our time there and came back to Kathmandu to meet up with the rest of our trekking crew for dinner.

That day I heard that Scott, the camera guy was delayed from arriving in Kathmandu by 6hrs; his plane had been re-routed to Bangledesh until the fog lifted. When he did arrive he too was without luggage. The good news was that our bags finally did show up and so did our other Trekking buddy, Dr. Tim Holtz from the CDC in Atlanta. Absent however was a mutual friend of Brandon’s and mine that told me that he was going on the trek but cancelled at the last minute. However, not absent were the two friends of his that he invited to join us. They were just as surprised as I was to find out that our friend had ditched us, but it turned out that Lisa and Mark were fun to talk to and be around, so it all worked out.

I think that is enough for now, I have to meet with some people about the documentary at the Cheese and Rice place that Brandon recommended. Tune in next time to find out how things worked out on the trek.


Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Film Festivals Info - from Gordon (another busy day at work)

Investigating the film festivals – a good site for lists of all the festivals around the country.

I’m thinking……

Something local…. Atlanta..Athens…The States next door to GA.
Something in/around NY (to capitalize on the local Nepalese Community)
Something Prestigious (might as well try)… Sundance etc
Something relevant… Asian Films… Docs…

A deadline of April 2008 or later for entry- ideally entry from March to May/June – we want it out there ASAP.

If we miss one we miss it – no point in waiting a year.

The festivals I’ve found

Something Local….

Atlanta Film Festival – we will MISS the deadline (Jan 2008)

This might be our best shot at a prestigious festival….

Moondance International Film Festival – Boulder, CO (aka “The American Cannes”)
They don’t have a deadline yet but it’s in MAY 2008 – entries accepted starting in January.

Facts from their website:

Moondance was voted the "third most important film festival in the world" after Cannes and Sundance in an online poll of 150,000 international film industry professionals

THE MOVIE IS ONLY THE BEGINNING! Moondance International Film Festival’s primary goal is to present films and scripts which have the power to raise awareness about vital social issues, educating writers and filmmakers, as well as our film festival audiences, and inspiring them to take positive action. Through meaningful films, we begin to realize that our routine perspectives can give way to new ways of seeing the world, ourselves and others. Moondance believes in the unique power of the world entertainment media to create great social and environmental change. Our goal is to deliver compelling entertainment that will inspire and encourage people to actively get involved in the issues that affect all of us.

THE FILM FESTIVAL: The Moondance International Film Festival, popularly known as the "American Cannes", is one of the premier venues for the exhibition and promotion of feature and short films in the US, and one of the leading indie film festivals in the world. Dedicated to celebrating and sharing with international audiences the absolute best in the world of films and screenplays, film scores, and some 25 other genres, the festival features special presentations, retrospectives, workshops, pitch panels, a gala awards reception and ceremony, and many of the world’s top indie film screenings.

MOONDANCE BENEFITS: Here's what you can get by participating in the Moondance: promotion and exposure of your work on an international level; a forum in which to share your knowledge, experience and talents with your peers; an opportunity to network with professional movers and shakers from Hollywood; learn something new and valuable; and get some great pointers on advancing your own entertainment industry career, in this professional, world-class forum. Moondancers are part of an amazing community; a unique collaboration of multi-talented writers and filmmakers.

Something Local…..

Docufest Atlanta – festival is in September.
Deadline is probably April/May – (no info yet)

This is a small local thing – 2008 will be the 3rd year for this festival and it’s not exactly Moondance but you might get some press just because you are local.

Something Local(ish)….

Charleston International Film Festival May 1st to 4th 2008
NOTE : Deadline is March 1st

If you can get it ready in time – this might be good for 2 reasons-

1. Its the 1st year for this festival so it might be easier to get into.
2. Its local(ish) – we might get some press – plus we can drive there.

From their website:

The 1st Annual CIFF will bring attendees together for 4 days to attend premieres, panels, special events, seminars, after parties and deal making opportunities. The festival will showcase shorts, features and documentaries from around the world. There will also be a screenplay competition.

Something Prestigious….

LA film Festival – June 21st thru July 1st
NOTE : Deadline is March 1st

Why?? – because its L.A. Baby!!! – and besides, you know a lot of TV/movie buyers will be there.

From their website (and probably true of any prestigious film festival)

Feature films and short films must not have had any commercial theatrical or television play in the US

Something Else Prestigious….

If you miss the above festival

Toronto International Film Festival September 4th to 13th 2008
Deadline is June 8th for entries

Something Relevant

The Center for Asian American Media

Lots of Docs about Asian subjects

Unfortunately they have a film festival in March but the deadline is October so you would have to enter for March 2009 – but if you get hung up with the editing….

There are a bunch of Asian Film festivals. Unfortunately
1. The timing is wrong on a lot of them
2. Some of them are only open to people of Asian descent (Bob, I don’t think you can pull it off)
3. Some of them are for Anime/Karate type movies.
4. Some of them only care about the Asian American experience inside the US.

Something Relevant

International Human Rights Documentary Film Festival – Glasgow
Deadline is July 1st

From their (sparse) website:
Document 5 will screen a large and diverse selection of documentary film covering a broad understanding of international human rights including: immigration & asylum; racism; miscarriages of justice; eviction; poverty; social exclusion; war and conflict; workers / unemployed rights; africa; palestine / israel; central / eastern europe; north & south america; roma, gypsies & travellers; kurdish issues; central asian former soviet republics; mental health & social care; hiv / aids; young people; women; human trafficking; indigenous cultures; environmental exploitation & disaster...

Something Relevant

Human Rights watch international Film Festival – New York and London

Very relevant – but the timing stinks

In February
No Deadline specified

From their website:

In recognition of the power of film to educate and galvanize a broad constituency of concerned citizens, Human Rights Watch decided to create the Human Rights Watch International Film Festival. Human Rights Watch's International Film Festival has become a leading venue for distinguished fiction, documentary and animated films and videos with a distinctive human rights theme. Through the eyes of committed and courageous filmmakers, we showcase the heroic stories of activists and survivors from all over the world. The works we feature help to put a human face on threats to individual freedom and dignity, and celebrate the power of the human spirit and intellect to prevail. We seek to empower everyone with the knowledge that personal commitment can make a very real difference.

In selecting films for the festival, Human Rights Watch concentrates equally on artistic merit and human rights content. The festival encourages filmmakers around the world to address human rights subject matter in their work and presents films and videos from both new and established international filmmakers. Each year, the festival's programming committee screens more than 500 films and videos to create a program that represents a range of countries and issues. Once a film is nominated for a place in the program, staff of the relevant division of Human Rights Watch also view the work to confirm its accuracy in the portrayal of human rights concerns. Though the festival rules out films that contain unacceptable inaccuracies of fact, we do not bar any films on the basis of a particular point of view. For more on submissions, click here.

The New York festival has been co-presented since 1994 by the Film Society of Lincoln Center and screens at the Walter Reade Theater at Lincoln Center. In 1996, the festival expanded to London, where it now screens annually in March with our partners at Picturehouse cinemas. The Ritzy Cinema in Brixton is our main venue and we also screen at several other Pictureouse cinemas as well as the ICA in London. The festival consistently features a large number of co-presentations with other festivals to encourage cross-communication and mutual support throughout the festival and film community. A majority of each years screenings are followed by discussions with the filmmakers and Human Rights Watch staff on issues represented in the films.

Festivals/TV Networks Plan of Action

Hope you are doing well in Nepal.

Here's my plan of action while you guys are away -

1. Investigate selling the doc to an HD channel.
What do they pay, what do they want etc.

2. Investigate the film festivals
Which are the best, can we create some buzz, get some PR and then sell the movie? This will be a choice that has to be made upfront – i.e. is the film good enough to go this route which will involve editing costs out of pocket.

3. Investigate some of the PBS programs
Frontline, POV, Independent Lens, Wide Angle etc. How does this tie in with ITVS grants etc? The money you get in grants will have to be the ‘pay’ for doing the movie.

4. Possibly look at some of the other channels
i.e. National Geographic, TLC, History etc.

I think you'll have to make some hard choices when you get back - do you want to go the festival route or just try and sell it and move on?

Of course this choice might be made for us if no-one wants to pay for it - but generally speaking most film festivals don't show stuff thats been on TV.

See my next post for Film Festival info.