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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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