I Am Belmaya

 

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An absolute crowd-pleaser, this is a portrait of a young woman from Nepal setting out to be a filmmaker.

 
I Am Belmaya
 

Belmaya is Belmaya Nepali and her story is so heart-warming that the weaknesses in this documentary film do nothing to undermine its strong appeal. Belmaya is very much its central figure as you would expect, but some will be surprised to see that she is credited as the film’s co-director with Sue Carpenter, the latter being the first-named director and the writer here. However, that is apt for the fact is that Belmaya, despite being a Dalit girl who grew up in Nepal without any real education, would find inspiration in setting out to be a filmmaker and this film shows how she succeeded in achieving her dream.

 

I Am Belmaya opens in the Nepalese city of Pokhara in 2014 and leads through to footage from 2019 when Belmaya had developed her talents sufficiently to win an award for her short Educate Our Daughters when it was screened at the UK Asian Film Festival in London. However, this film also looks back to consider her childhood as the youngest of six children in a low caste village and describes how she run away at the age of twelve because her school life was so discouraging. Then at fourteen a photo project aroused her interest and in time led to her taking a course in filmmaking. As it proceeds, I Am Belmaya effortlessly functions both as a personal tale centred on Belmaya’s endeavours to build a career and to be her own woman and also as a study of the extent to which women in Nepal have to struggle to overcome the discrimination they face. Indeed, this film no less than Belmaya’s own short film is a plea for the importance of education for women.

 

Although the development of Belmaya’s career is a central thread here, her story is also one that involves a troubled private life. Her husband, Biren, resented the fact that their child proved to be a girl and he became increasingly violent in his behaviour and even threatened to kill her causing Belmaya to seek a divorce. In the event, there was a change of heart on his part but, although she had apparently chosen this man despite family opposition, he could not be relied upon and the reconciliation did not last. Possibly Sue Carpenter had difficulty in getting his full co-operation but, whatever the reason, information relevant to the marriage and to the birth of their daughter comes in fits and starts rather than emerging as part of a natural flow in portraying Belmaya’s life and at times one wants more details.

 

But, if one can imagine a smoother biopic than this, Belmaya herself is a winning presence and, when dealing with the family and their village, the film is properly homely (the village would be the site for the premiere of her first film shown when her training ended). Indeed, despite the landscape of Nepal, I Am Belmaya plays as a work in which people always count far more than the scenery. The audience will undoubtedly take to Belmaya herself in a big way and will want to applaud when she ends the film by announcing “My future is in my own hands”.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Featuring  Belmaya Nepali, Biren Sada, Bipana, Rajesh Gonga Jr, Maila Dai, Thuli Bhaujui, Hajuraama, David Thomas, Sabina Shrestha, Laxcha Bantawa, Thulo Dai, Liz Mermin, Ramyata Limbu, Devi.

 

Dir Sue Carpenter and Belmaya Nepali, Pro Sue Carpenter and Christopher Hird, Screenplay Sue Carpenter, with Kat Reynolds, Ph Manas Singh Suwal, Belmaya Nepali, Sue Carpenter and Laxcha Bantawa, Ed Sue Carpenter, Music Marie-Anne Fischer.

 

Tideturner Films/Dartmouth Films-Dartmouth Films.
81 mins. UK. 2021. Rel: 15 October 2021 in cinemas and on demand at Curzon Home Cinema and BFI Player. Cert. 12A.