An Interview with Dipesh Kharel (Director)
Recording Vanishing Knowledge
Q: In this film it’s fascinating that while you record the path of copper from mining to smelting, you are also sketching a lively picture of people’s lives and culture. What caused you to think of filming in this town?
DK: I found out about this village from the anthropology professor Dr. Nils. He had carried out work in this village for over twenty years, and had earned the trust of the local people. Thirty-five years ago copper production in the village was halted, and today only a small number of older people know the traditional techniques for producing copper. As a filmmaker, and as a person from Nepal, I felt a responsibility to record that precious knowledge on film, and to pass it on to future generations.
Because of globalization not only copper making, but also traditional language and culture is slipping away. On the other hand, people who have gone abroad to work return to the village with new knowledge and ways of thinking, so there have been positive changes, such as the decrease in discrimination under the caste system. I thought that the intermingling of these factors might make for an interesting film.
Q: I’ve heard that you employed a visual anthropology approach in the making of this film. Can you tell us exactly what kind of method that is?
DK: There are two methods for making documentary. The first is the one commonly used in TV documentaries, where the story is structured according to the director’s ideas. The narrative can be decided in advance, and there might be a certain message being conveyed. With the visual anthropology method, the subjects of the film are at its core, and the film is made from the footage gathered of their lives and culture. The work produced is grounded in reality, an open film from which viewers are free to derive their own meaning.
The first thing I did was to live in the village, and to observe. For about three months I ate and drank together with the villagers, and I learned their culture by working as one of them. Another important part of the cycle came once I’d edited the footage I’d gathered, when I went back to the village to show it to the people there. At the rough cut stage I showed them pretty much all of the scenes I had, and as I worked I checked with them to see whether or not what I had portrayed was real. For example, in the scene where they make a bellows from goat’s skin there are some small departures from the traditional techniques, but it’s lucky that we were able to commit it to film.
At the same time, it’s necessary for me to communicate with the viewers, too. As an intermediary, I thought about how I could remain mindful of conveying the villagers’ reality while still making that reality as easy as possible for people to understand.
Q: When you talk about the villagers’ faith it’s striking that you appear so happy. There’s a scene of animal sacrifice, and the kids were all happily participating, weren’t they?
DK: The Dasain festival is the biggest festival in Nepal. During this time young people who have moved abroad or to the cities return to their villages. In the past it was even more splendid, but it’s the one opportunity each year to wear new clothes and eat your fill of meat, so people today still enjoy it. In the Hindu faith they do not use the cow, which is the symbol of god, as a sacrifice, but they can eat water buffalo. Other animals used are goats and chickens. The animals sacrificed vary from village to village, but in the copper mines it’s very often chickens. The villagers see the copper mine as Lord Mahadev, the most important god, and the fact that the mine is the basis for their livelihoods is the basis for this.
(Compiled by Uno Yukiko)
Interviewers: Uno Yukiko, Takahashi Asuka / Interpreter: Watanabe Ayaka / Translator: Tyler Walker
Photography: Suzuki Noriko / Video: Kano Megumi / 2015-10-10