When the San Francisco Himalayan Film Festival kicks off Friday at the 9th Street Independent Film Center, many of those profiled on screen will still be coping with disaster. On Saturday, a catastrophic magnitude 7.9 earthquake rocked Nepal, more than 4,600 people dead and 9,000 injured, including a small handful of visitors from the Bay Area who were trekking up Mount Everest. Casualties continue to mount. Nearly ten million people have been impacted – more than a third of the country – and large sections of the capital, Kathmandu, are in ruins. It’s a devastating blow to the developing country, which ranks among the world’s poorest.
Sahayeta.org, a San Bruno-based non-profit hosting the festival, has thrown itself headlong into the recovery effort. They plan to donate all of the proceeds from the two-day event, which wraps up with a full day of screenings at the Film Center on Saturday, to grassroots organizations aiding in the reconstruction effort on the ground in Nepal. Beneficiaries will include schools, women’s groups, youth organizations, and farmers. "Sahayeta may not have the infrastructure that big organizations do," Justin Barker, the co-founder the festival says, "but the donations will go to the right people in isolated region, who may not be able to get the support that they need."
Many of the films will showcase those voices, ranging from women’s soccer players in Nepal to exiled refugees in Bhutan. In Tashi’s Turbine, the documentary that will close out the festival, a villager in a remote Himalayan province struggles to bring wind energy to her community, which has been devastated by cold for generations and has no reliable electrical power. Way of Life, directed by David Driver, follows small-town American artist Michael Daube, who sells a valuable piece of art to build hospitals, schools, and charities in the Himalayas.
But the festival also features stories of turmoil. The Refugees of Shangri-La looks at Bhutanese refugees exiled to Nepal who seek a new course: leaving for America, which has resettled 80,000 Bhutanese refugees. Although Bhutan is known as the “last Shangri La,” where monarchs measure their success by gross national happiness, it actually has the largest number of refugees per capita in the history of the world.
While the festival comes at a time of tragedy, it presents an opportunity for movie-goers in the Bay Area to get a look at life in an oft-studied region. "These people will stand back up and be better than ever," Barker says, "and the films represent that."
Festival Schedule (All Events at 9th Street Independent Film Center)
May 1, 2015
6:30 pm Opening Night with Sunakali
May 2, 2015
1:15 pm When Hari Got Married
2:45 pm Way of Life
4:45 pm The Refugees of Shangri-La