From atop a taller hill

Features Issue 127 Jun, 2012
Text by Niraj Karki / Photo: ECS Media

With accolades coming from all over for his film Journey to Yarsa, Deependra Bhandari has become a busy man, traveling abroad often for screenings.

You’ve obviously travelled a lot to have found such a remarkable story, tell us about your childhood.
I’ve always had a travelling streak. When I was small and I had to look after our goats I had this impulse to go to the top of a hill and then find a higher one. I remember being told from the top of that one you can see this. That feeling excited me and I just wanted to keep exploring that feeling.

How did the idea of doing the movie come about?
I was actually working for another movie idea about the traditional hunters in Rukkum’s Maikot inside the Dhorpatan Hunting Reserve. I had to abandon the idea because hunting is illegal. But that is when the idea of doing a movie about Yarsa came about.

How long did it take to make the entire movie?
It took about 3 years in 3 different trips. The first time I went there, I stayed there for a month. At that time a piece of Yarsagumba used to cost 2-3 rupees. I did most of my planning and research then. The second time I trained some of the locals to carry equipment and also chose characters to focus on for the movie. I chose Punimaya Kami and 2 other Magar families who packed everything for the Yarsagumba collection.The third time I went on my own to get the final footage with Punimaya’s family.

What was it like managing finances for such a massive solo project?
Filming in a place like Rukkum is terribly expensive. After the second filming trip, I wasn’t satisfied with the footage I had. I was determined to make another trip and focus on Punimaya and her family. I approached many friends and organizations including the NTB, UNICEF and for good and bad reasons, I ended up using the savings and selling gold that my wife had set aside for our daughters 2nd year ceremony. On the last trip for the shoot, I was a one-man team doing both the audio and video – I didn’t use a tripod at all and that shows quite clearly in the way the movie is filmed.

When did you realize that this movie would go to such heights?
A lot of people told me that the movie was great – even from the beginning, Rupa Joshi from UNICEF who supported me immensely told me what this movie could become. But it was when I met Kanak Mani ji and showed him the raw footage that I felt I had something really good. He never seen its equal in Nepal.

So what about Journey to Yarsa now?
I’ve taken the movie to many film festivals – I’ve just returned from Al Jazeera and I’ve also been to Torronto, Malaysia, Qatar and many more. The movie is going under post processing again. Made for specifically Film South Asia – too narrative which has been criticized by many people. Also with the support I am getting, I should be able to redo the film and it better.