At the age of fourteen, Belmaya Nepali had the opportunity to be part of the My World My View photography project, led by Sue Carpenter. It seemed an energizing and uplifting moment for this young woman, though the joy of it was short-lived. The home for girls in Pokhara, where Belmaya lived, took away the camera, and Belmaya sank into a life of struggle, poverty, and abuse. Married young, uneducated, lower caste, with a young daughter and a husband with deeply rooted patriarchal ideas, Belmaya’s life turns into one that is deeply challenging.
But Sue Carpenter re-entered Belmaya’s life, co-directing this inspiring documentary alongside its subject, Belmaya. In 2014, Belmaya had the opportunity to be involved in a filmmaking training course, and Carpenter follows her experience. The film gives us a view of her shots alongside Belmaya’s, allowing viewers to follow Belmaya as she navigates this experience and learns to make films so she can explore issues of importance to her, especially the education of girls and women, which would become the subject of her first documentary short film.
There are a number of documentaries made by and/or about women and issues that touch their lives – the recent Oscar-nominated Writing With Fire explores the world of Khabar Lahariya, a news organization run by Dalit women (like Belmaya) who, using smartphones, document important stories, and issues in some of the most difficult regions of India. WOMB (Women of My Billion) follows Srishti Bakshi as she walks the length of India in order to meet with other women and raise awareness about the issues that concern them. I Am Belmaya joins them, bringing yet another perspective on the lives of women, especially Dalit women, this time in Nepal.
And what a joy it is to watch Belmaya’s transformation! The changes in her life aren’t fast or easy – at one point, she is so frustrated at the abuse dished out by her husband that she has him arrested. Things seem to improve between the couple after that, as he seems to spend more time caring for their daughter and trying to trust Belmaya more as she explores filmmaking and takes on filmmaking jobs when she can. What is obvious, though, is that as Belmaya grows and changes, her husband does not. Even though he says he’s proud when her film is screened at the Kathmandu International Mountain Film Festival, he still notes that it would have been nice if she’d asked him up on stage with her after the screening. It is perhaps not surprising, then, that by the film’s end, Belmaya and her daughter are on their own. Belmaya has flown just too far, and improving the chances for her daughter is just too important for her to remain where she is.
Belmaya cannot be stopped, and her first short film, ‘Educate Our Daughters’, makes its way to a number of festivals, including the Toronto Reel Asian Film Festival and the UK Asian Film Festival, where it won in the Short Film Competition, a moment that is documented in the film. I Am Belmaya introduces us to a new and fresh, and important voice in the realm of documentary filmmaking.
I Am Belmaya is part of the virtual screening festival which takes place April 22nd-25th.
To find out more about this film and to purchase tickets to watch the film online, plus to find out what else is being showcased at Indie Meme, visit https://www.indiememe.org/.