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Film of the Week The emancipatory power of cinema

MARIA DUARTE is enthralled by the powerful story of filmmaker Belmaya Nepali

I Am Belmaya (12A)
Directed by Sue Carpenter and Belmaya Nepali

FROM battered wife to award-winning film-maker, Belmaya Nepali’s story is an awe-inspiring tale of female empowerment gained through the transformative power of cinema and film-making. Co-writer-director Sue Carpenter met Belmaya in Pokhara, Nepal, in 2006 when the latter was 14 years old and taught her photography.

It wasn’t until 2014, when Belmaya was 21 with a baby daughter and married to an abusive husband, that they met each other again — Carpenter deciding to follow Belmaya’s journey to becoming a documentary-maker over five years.

Through stills and video footage from Belmaya’s teenage years, along with the work she shot training to become a documentarian herself, it shows a determined, strong and resilient young woman — uneducated, orphaned and from a low caste — who is steadfast in following her dream against the sexist constraints of Nepal’s patriarchal society.

Angry at not being able to finish her education, she says: “If I had continued my studies I could have found a better job ... I wouldn’t have to be married and dependent on my husband.” He is a violent man, resentful of his wife’s ambitions to provide a better future for their daughter, whom he refuses to acknowledge because she isn’t the son he wanted.

Co-directed by Belmaya, this powerful and poignant film shows the hardships that she underwent and how she fought against all the odds to take charge of her own story, culminating in an emotional screening of her work to her siblings and friends, and winning the best short film award at the 2019 UK Asian Film Festival.

Much like Malala, she is a fierce advocate for girls’ education, an extraordinary role model and an exciting up-and-coming film-maker.

Maria Duarte
In cinemas, on Curzon Home Cinema and BFI Player October 15

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