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.

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