Hello Queerious folks!
Please excuse my absence for the last few months as I was occupied by making my short film Memory of a Butterfly. As some of you may remember, my first Queerious post ever was about LGBT in Nepal and the documentary, Other Nature, directed by a dear friend of mine, Miss Nani Sahra Walker. As the film is now near its completion and is currently seeking a distributor in Europe and the U.S., it’s only fitting for my return to Queerious with an interview with the talented Miss Walker, who worked with me on our film Coming in From the Cold, which premiered at the British Film Institute and Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Film Festival.
Other Nature is a feature-length documentary that chronicles the life experiences of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and third gender community of Nepal, as the country transitions to a federal republic after 240 years of monarchy. More specifically, it documents the pilgrimage two third gender human right activists make to Muktinath, a temple in the Himalayas, to pray for gender equality. The stories of a runaway lesbian couple from Kolkata and another lesbian couple that was unjustly discharged from the Nepali Army are also included; while the challenges faced by third gender sex workers highlight the struggles faced by the LGBT community in Nepal to realize their right to self-determination. The film has been screened in a dozen cities from Vancouver, Brussels to Mumbai.
Tin Lee: Would you tell us more about Third Gender? How does it differ from lesbian, gay and bisexuals if there are any differences?
Nani Sahra Walker: Third Gender is a term used historically in both the East and the West to refer to transgender individuals. In the Hindu Vedic texts,Tritriya Prakriti appears as a distinct gender identification, Third or Other Nature. Tritriya Prakriti emerges time and again in Hindu mythology from the Vedas to the Ramayana and Mahabharata (something like the Odyssey and Iliad of India, only 10-fold in length).
While in the West, third gender would be equated to “transgender,” in Nepal most butch women consider themselves “third gender” and even a lot of gay men who appeared as guys during the day, considered themselves third gender because they liked to dress up at night.
TL: What is the inspiration for the project?
NSW: OTHER NATURE emerged as a curiosity about how a country like Nepal considered “impoverished” and “medieval” by Western media became the first in the world to grant third gender citizenship and make such advancements in human rights issues.
In 2001 I read that a small organization was organized for the rights of sexual minorities – Blue Diamond Society. It was a glimmer of a new beginning, a possibility for radical change and a step towards advancement. I followed the Blue Diamond Society online for many years. In 2008 when the Supreme Court passed a legislation protecting the rights of the LGBT community and granting third gender citizenship, I knew I had to go to Nepal and make a film. Much of the representation of Nepal has always been centered on the Himalayas, either exotifying the mountains or focusing on the poverty.
TL: Can you tell us more about the Blue Diamond Society?
NSW: Blue Diamond Society was founded in 2001 by Sunil Babu Pant and a handful of people who felt the need to protect LGBT rights in Nepal. After monarchy toppled, there were a lot of people standing up for their rights like women, low-caste and indigenous groups that had all been squelched under the 240 year regime. It was the right moment to start an LGBT organization and demand freedom and equality!
TL: The pilgrimage to Muktinah, was it difficult?
NSW: Well, we were lucky that the roads were built by that time. Just a decade ago, there were no roads to Muktinath, so it would have been a really tough journey, weeks of walking. But surely, it was a difficult journey especially because we traveled in May on the cusp of monsoon and there were a lot of floods along the way. At one point, I remember it was like an obstacle course. On a dirt road along the hillside, we spent one afternoon laying rocks on the flooded roads, already a detour from the towns we avoided due to riots and demonstrations.
The journey Bhumika and Badri take to Muktinath is by and large the axis on which this project rests. We traveled 9 days on unpaved flooded roads, trying our best to beat the rains before landslides would make it impossible to bear the terrain. The road trip put us up against all the forces of nature, and tested our intentions. The journey is much like the process of attaining equal rights.
TL: Did you feel that was also a pilgrimage for yourself?
NSW: Yes, not for much for religious factors but to take such a journey and realize what’s at stake. A 14-year old boy was killed by a falling boulder along the road just 5 minutes before us after we returned shooting Badri’s village. This stirred a lot of silence and awe. What it takes to want something so bad and how along the way, it’s all about the process.
TL: Were you raised in Nepal? Do you feel that Nepal is where your roots are?
I was born in Nepal and came to the US when I was 10. I feel a strong connection to Nepal in the sense that all my childhood memories take me back to Nepal. But, of course my adolescence and higher education was completed in the US and Japan so I don’t have a sense of belonging solely to Nepal, or solely to the US. My roots are everywhere and nowhere.
TL: Given the subject matter, did you encounter any problems while filming in Nepal?
NSW: We had many heads turn especially during the shoot but all in all we had a smooth production experience. Nepal has a small but vibrant production industry. We found people were kind, helpful and full of good spirits.
TL: Ah that’s always nice to hear. What was the most perilous situations you found yourself in while filming there?
NSW: While we were shooting the sex workers, we found ourselves in the crossfire between the police, the mafia and the sex workers. It was pretty scary some nights, and on our last night the police made a SPECIAL warning that we would be arrested if we are seen shooting in these parts again. I guess, it was like a territorial war because our cameras protected the sex workers in a way from the usual harassment and violence used to crack down on prostitution.
TL: How is the state of affairs for LGBT community in Nepal now?
NSW: It is all a process, so it continues. Although Nepal might look like an advanced country on paper, in law, there’s no constitution in place so it’s a pretty chaotic place and I think the LGBT community continues to work and create more visibility and understanding. Sunil Babu Pant is in the process of opening an LGBT center in Kathmandu so I think this will help as a place of refuge, building and solidifying.
TL: Was it difficult to find funding?
NSW: Funding independent films always requires imagination, desire, courage and persistence. I worked 3 jobs to save the first lump sum and then a few fundraisers. I had a lot of support so I feel grateful. As we’re In the process of distribution now, it’s the same kind of game. I think crowd-funding platforms are a great resource for independent filmmakers.
TL: What advice would you give to struggling indie queer filmmakers when they set out to do a project of their own?
NSW: Have a clear idea of your project, put your plan on paper and give 200%. Seek like-minded people to collaborate with and connect with an umbrella organization for tools and resources. Be patient and persistent.
At the moment Other Nature is raising funds to hire a composer. Check out how you can help this amazing project.