FFF 2017 Day 10–A Conversation With Several Nepalese About White Sun

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Local Artist, Colin Boyer, Sketches Some of the Nepalese Who Came to See White Sun and Spoke with LanceAround Afterwards

It’s been a long film festival. Mrs. LanceAround, NumberTwoSon and I are exhausted and hungry. After enjoying the movies Dean and I Dream In Another Language, we’re ready to get something to eat and head home.

But as we leave the theatre, we notice a group of people who appear to be from another country. Some of the men are wearing blue shirts with the word Nepal on the front. A couple of the women have shirts featuring a red flag made of one triangle on top of another with two images inside that might be a sun and moon? I take a moment to check the FFF guide. Sure enough, the movie White Sun is about the play. It’s a film shot in Nepal and revolves around the recent civil war between Maoist and Royalists. I ask the group if they are from Nepal. They are. Would they mind doing an interview with me at the end of the film? Of course!

So, tired as we are, Mrs. LanceAround, NumberTwoSon and I head into the theatre for one last movie and one incredible experience that can only happen at the FFF. For the last night of the festival, we will be treated to an incredible educational and community experience as we watch an excellent film then have an interview with Ang,  Sanam, Sharon, Mandip, Ashish, Devi, Sunil, and Ujjwal.

[LA=LanceAround, N=One of more of the Nepalese]

LA: One of the things I love about the FFF is you never know what kind of movie you’re going to see and you never know what kind of people are going to come see a movie. I was fascinated that we have a movie about Nepal and all of the sudden I see a bunch of people with Nepal shirts on. Are you guys all one family?

N: No, friends.

LA: Do you know each other because you live here?

N: Yes.

LA: Have you gotten together specifically because you’re from Nepal?

N: Right.

LA: Were all of you born in Nepal?

N: Yes.

LA: What brought you to America?

N: School.

LA: But have you made a decision to stay here?

N: Yes.

LA: Why’s that?

N: It’s a better life here.

LA: What year, approximately, did this movie take place?

N: About two years ago.

LA: Was the politics they showed in the movie all accurate?

N: Yea.

LA: Were the village elders Muslim?

N: No, they were Hindu.

LA: What’s a Maoist?

N: Followers of Mao Zedong, his ideas. Communists.

LA: We’re talking about the communist ideas from 70 years ago?

N: Yea. There was a resurgence of Mao Zedong in Nepal. But then they joined the democratic process.

LA: When they showed the Hindu tradition about the caste system, and women not allowed to be at funerals, is that all very accurate?

N: It is. Like they showed, it’s changing slowly.

LA: So, what are all of you?

N: We’re all different castes. I’m a Rai, she’s a Rai…

LA: Rai means?

N: Well, it’s different castes we have. It’s hard to relate to…

LA: I was lost about lots of stuff in the movie, that’s one of the reasons that I’m talking to you…

N: We’re Rais, He’s Rama…

LA: And which would be higher?

N: I guess a Rama would be higher than a Rai.

LA: Oh, well excuse me then, let me talk to you guys…[LanceAround turns his back on the Rais and begins to address the Rama. The Nepalese begin to laugh.]

N: Nowadays it’s not that big a deal. Back in the days, it was definitely a big deal.

LA: And how about you guys?

N: I’m Pant. He’s also a higher…he’s a priest. You know, the priest in the movie, so he’s the same caste as that.

LA: [Makes a bowing motion to the Pant, again the Nepalese laugh.]

N: Mahrjan. Once we worked in the farms, so we’re farmers.

LA: And where do they rank on the caste system?

N: I think about in the middle.

LA: How does the caste system work? Literally if you’re walking down the street and a higher caste comes along you step aside?

N: No, not like that, not like that. This was a small village. In Kathmandu is now a very large city. Caste is not like that.

LA: Kathmandu is the largest city in Nepal?

N: Yes, it’s the capital.

LA: This was a small village. And there are lots of small villages?

N: Oh, yea.

LA: Do the small villages tend to cling to the caste system?

N: Oh, yes.

LA: Are most of the villages Hindi?

N: Hindu.

LA: Isn’t Hindi the plural of Hindu?

N: No, Hindi is the language. Hindu is the religion.

LA: Wow, this is an education, this is great.

N: But we speak a different language. We speak Nepali.

LA: Do all of you speak Nepali?

N: Yes.

LA: Is it your first language?

N: Yes.

LA: And is that the language the movie was in?

N: Yes.

LA: When you were watching the movie, did you even read the subtitles?

N: No, Yes, Sometimes. It was distracting. Sometimes it was wrong.

LA: What was wrong about it?

N: Some of the translations don’t directly translate. We can’t get into the detail. But what they were saying, it wasn’t exactly every single detail.

LA: What does the ethnocentric, ignorant American–that’s me–what do they miss when they see this movie?

N: A lot of the history. We know there was a 10 year civil war. So it’s after that; how this country continues after that. How do we grow after that.

LA: And that civil war lasted approximately from when to when?

N: 1997 to 2006 when they take over the dictator.

LA: In the movie it said that Pooja couldn’t go to school without a birth certificate. Does that mean only certain Nepalese are schooled and others are not?

N: It’s just like for you, to get a citizenship. That’s a department. You have to have a father’s signature. The mother’s signature doesn’t work. That’s still true.

LA: So if you don’t have the signature, you don’t go to school?

N: You can’t go to some schools.

LA: Do all Nepalese go to school or are there sections that don’t?

N: Pretty much everyone goes to school.

LA: In school, do they teach the kind of history that you guys are talking about?

N: English is such a big concept…

LA: What’s a big concept?

N: Like, going to America. English is such a big thing in our country. I went to school in Nepal for about six years…

LA: Kathmandu or a village?

N: Kathmandu. But I was born in where that movie was. Us, too, we’re from that district.

LA: Isn’t that a very small village?

N: No, no it’s a district, like a state. The districts are pretty big.

LA: So you weren’t born in that particular village, but in that district.

N: Yea, right.

LA: Does every Nepalese child dream about going to America?

N: Most, yea, America, Australia, Canada, Europe, Nairobi, you get a better education. It’s a third world country; pretty tough, as you can see in the movie. In the villages a lot of people walking without shoes. There isn’t a pitch road. But most of us grew up in the city, per se, so that’s hard for us to relate to.

LA: I’m just trying to imagine what it’s like to come from a place where everyone wants to be somewhere else? I can’t get my head around that.

N: I want to go back.

LA: Why?

N: I’m a film student, actually, I want to go back.

LA: So let’s talk about the film. Did you think it was a good quality movie?

N: Nepal movies, generally, are pretty terrible. This was a lot better. This was really good. It’s a really good movie. Nepal movies usually follow, like, Bollywood movies; a lot of singing and dancing. It’s really different.

LA: So this is unlike any Nepal movie you’ve ever seen? Did you like it? Is there anyone who didn’t like it?

N: It’s a pretty good movie. Yes, it’s good. It’s a really good movie. It made me cry.

LA: It made me cry, too. I thought the concept of the small village with its internal problems mirroring the larger national conflict, I thought that was skillfully woven together.

N: When you are in the villages, there are no adults. You have young people and you have old people. The adults either go to Maoists or they go to the army or they come to America.

LA: So, if there are no adults–only young people and old people, how did the young people get there?

N: This is when the war was going on. When it was going on all the men…they were either in the army or with the Maoist groups. A lot of them died that way. So they were fighting. In the village, as you can see, there’s a bunch of young kids…there are a lot of women…and there are a lot of elder statesmen. They show you there’s a big chunk of generations missing; which are the adult males, because they were fighting the war or they passed away.

LA: That’s a very common phenomenon in any culture that has a war. You tend to lose the men. Any other comments about the movie itself?

N: It was good. It wasn’t too long. Usually Nepal movies are very, very long…hours…so an hour and a half is really good.

LA: It was almost a very Americanized movie about Nepal…It had handheld cameras which is unusual for Bollywood or Nepal I assume?

N: It was a first time opportunity to see a Nepal movie in America–First time.

LA: It’s the first time this movie played in America?

N: Any movie–Any movie from Nepal. It’s the first time getting to watch a Nepali movie in America.

LA: You guys are part of a group of people who come from Nepal, who know each other. Here in Central Florida, how large is that group?

N: In Orlando there’s probably like 100 households. There’s a Nepali association. We have gatherings…

LA: Well, where are the other 90 households tonight? I’m assuming word got around…

N: They’re at home! A lot of Nepal people go watch Bollywood with the Indians.

LA: Do all 100 households live in approximately the same place?

N: In Orlando, from Lake Mary to Kissimmee.

LA: So it’s not like Little Vietnam where there is a huge group within a small locale. You guys are all spread out. Is there a particular Hindu congregation that you guys are all a part of? Or several of them?

N: You should ask him…

LA: Yea, I thought you were the spiritual leader…

N: That’s his caste [everyone laughs]

LA: What about culture? The movie displayed a lot of rituals. Is there a particular cultural element to being from Nepal?

N: Some of it we could relate to…but every caste has their own culture as well. So I don’t know what culture they were trying to represent there. Let’s say like the Rai caste, we don’t burn our dead. We bury–differences like that.

LA: One of the things America does very poorly is teach Americans about the history of other places…Let’s see, Nepal is right between Tibet and India, correct? Has Nepal always been it’s own country?

N: We’re very proud that we’ve never been occupied by anyone.

LA: Has Nepal always been a unified place or is it made up of a bunch of different tribe?

N: There’s a lot of castes…

LA: But do all those castes recognize Nepal as their country? Is it Nepal first or is it the caste first?

N: Nepal first, always.

Nepal Fundraising T-Shirt

LA: Can you explain your shirt to me?

N: This is after the earthquake. Even in the movie they talk about the earthquake. It’s a fundraising shirt, for the earthquake. Two years ago, there was a horrible earthquake.

LA: I remember that, it was devastating. There were some villages that they couldn’t get to for months.

N: Yes, this is a shirt for the fundraiser.

LA: I’m assuming that’s the flag of Nepal?

N: Yes, it’s the only flag that’s not rectangular. And he has on a cricket jersey.

LA: Oh, so that’s a shirt about little insects???

N: [laughing] No, it’s the sport, cricket. It’s like baseball.

LA: [laughing] No, there is no American who would ever say cricket is anything like baseball. [everyone laughs] You will also never find an American who understands the first thing about cricket. [more laughter] Will not happen…So, what else was there about the movie that I will never understand because I don’t live in the culture?

N: The situation in the villages…you see the people…what we are going through. it’s children and old people. All the villages, there’s no teenagers. You see how troubled they are. That’s the problem we’re facing right now. Because of the people who passed away because of the war. During the war, the Maoists, they force you. You have to join the war. Either they kill you, or you join. That’s why there’s the whole generation gap. This movie, that’s what they’re showing. No teenagers there.

LA: Is the war pretty much over?

N: Yes, yea, yes.

LA: Where are you now?

N: We have a constitution now. It’s a democratic country. There’s something else in the movie you might not be able to relate to…they show a little bit of…Over here usually when you’re 18 you graduate from high school, the kids go to college, get a job and they live on their own or maybe with their parents. But in Nepal you might have three, four generations that live in the same house. So, let’s say, my dad would live with me. Then I grow up and get a wife, I bring my wife into our house…

LA: It’s always the woman goes to the man’s house?

N: Yes, then the kids, they all grow up there. Especially in the villages. There’s one house with three or four generations. That’s something you might not be able to relate to. Here, you’ve got to be on your own once you’re 18…21, you know. Over there, it’s not like you’re mooching off your parents. It’s just the culture.

LA: At the end of the movie, during the credits, was that Hindu script or Nepalese?

N: We have the same script. It’s all based on Sanskrit, whether it’s Nepal, India, Bangladesh, there are a few countries that use Sanskrit. There are a few differences.

LA: Could you guys all read it?

N: Yea, yes, yes…

LA: Do you read it left to right or right to left.

N: Left to right, same as English.

LA: In the movie, the one man said he had seven sons, but no one would come back to bury him…

N: Now what you have going on is there really is nothing to do. There is no work there.

LA: Is the country in extreme poverty?

N: About 90% of the GDP in Nepal is all people going abroad and sending money back to their family. And 10% is tourism–Mt. Everest, basically. We might have grandparents, uncles and aunties back home…or even some of us have our parents back home…and a lot of them send money back. That’s especially the case where a lot of kids are here abroad.

LA: Would the whole Everest, tourism thing, would that be similar in Nepal as Disney World is here in America. Which is, if you live here in Orlando it’s part of your culture…your society…but if you live 50 miles away its got nothing to do with you. Is that what tourism at Everest is like?

N: Yea, I guess. I’ve lived all of my life, well, a lot of my life, in Nepal and I never went to base camp. I guess if you lived up in the northern area…Everest is almost like a business unto itself.

LA: All of you were born in Nepal, right?

N: Yes.

LA: All of you still have elderly family member in Nepal?

N: Oh yea, parents, mom and dad…

LA: Are any of you going back for the funeral when that occurs?

N: Yea, yea, yes, exactly…

LA: You’ll do that, just like this movie shows? What will that experience be like? Will it be like we saw in the movie? If not, how will it be different?

N: Yea, it’ll be different…like we said earlier, I don’t live in a village. So it’s a different experience. Like over there, they were showing two brothers carrying the father…We still take the bodies down to the river but in Kathmandu they have paved roads…you would take a car…so it’s different.

LA: When you go back, will your elderly family members say, “You’re here now, why don’t you stay?” or will they say,”You got out, good for you. Don’t come back.”

N: It’s usually seen as a positive thing if you are outside. Getting a Visa for America, if you a Nepali citizen is super difficult. It’s like winning the lottery pretty much.

LA: Thank you for all your time. Is there anything else anyone wants to say? I’d like, if you don’t mind, to get your name and how to spell it. Is it OK if I put it into my blog? You can say no.

N: Yes, it’s fine, OK, no problem…Ang,  Sanam, Sharon, Mandip, Ashish, Devi, Sunil, and Ujjwal.

The next morning, the conversation continues as I find an email in my inbox from Ashish:

I wanted to few more things but I didn’t get chance to say it

If you remember, at the beginning of the movie. When the main character was coming to the village, the porter kid was asking. Are you from Malaysia, Kuwait, Saudi etc. And when they were trying to take body out of the house and they weren’t able to find any adults in.

So that’s the story In Nepal, it’s poor and all the adults go to the abroad to give better future of their family. So all the ppl from villages who are less educated and poor and can’t afford to come to US, Australia etc go to those Middle East countries. So that’s one of the reason why the village didn’t have many adults. All the able ppl they come to US, Australia, UK etc for better education and life.

That’s what I wants to say.

Regards,

Ashish

It is moments like this–meeting new friends, learning about new cultures, experiencing new aspects of life–that makes the FFF one of the most enjoyable experiences you can have. We hope you will join us next year at the Best Little Arthouse Film Festival in America. I look forward to seeing you then. For now, this concludes the FFF for 2017. Mrs. LanceAround and I agree that it’s been the best FFF we’ve ever attended. And finishing it off by having a great conversation with our eight new friends from Nepal was the perfect highlight.

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