Q&A: Introducing refugees from Bhutan to the world
A young American filmmaker who grew up in Nepal has returned to document refugees from Bhutan, in a film that sweeps from the refugee camps of the Nepalese countryside to New York City.
KATHMANDU, Nepal, October 26 (UNHCR) - The son of American aid workers, U.S. filmmaker Grady Walker spent most of his childhood in Kathmandu. Later, as a film school graduate, he decided to come back to Nepal and introduce the world to refugees from Bhutan, whose stories he had grown up with. His documentary "Eviction" sweeps from the camps of Jhapa, eastern Nepal, to New York City. The 27-year-old discussed his work with UNHCR Nepal External Relations Assistant Nini Gurung.
Tell us a bit about yourself. What inspired you to start making documentaries?
I grew up in Kathmandu, Nepal, and I have lived here for about 20 years. I left Nepal to attend film school in Los Angeles, California in 1998. I graduated in 2002 and have been working in this field since then. Film runs in my family. My father is a filmmaker and my brother is a filmmaker. I have worked on many different documentaries in a variety of capacities (directing, shooting, editing, etc.) I don't associate myself with any particular theme or style other than trying to be positive with my work.
How did you get to know about refugees from Bhutan in Nepal? Why did you want to make "Eviction"?
I learned about the refugees from Bhutan in Nepal when they first began crossing the border [in the early 1990s] and it was in the local news here in Kathmandu. I was just a young child at the time. A decade and a half later I had finished film school and was working as an editor in Portland, Oregon. After living away from Nepal for some years I realized that no one outside of South Asia had ever heard of these refugees. I decided to make a film about them to help raise awareness internationally.
When did you start filming? Did you face any difficulties in the making of "Eviction"?
I began filming in 2005. The process was very difficult and I was surprised to receive so little assistance along the way. I was denied permission from the Nepalese government authorities to go to the refugee camps to make a film and they gave me no reason. Publicly everyone was saying 'this issue needs to be internationalized - the international community must know about this,' then I came along and offered to make a film and do just that - take it to the international community. I regret to say that I encountered far too many who were content with maintaining the status quo. If it wasn't for the refugee contacts I had who were also intent on having their struggle documented I never would have even been able to visit the camps.
What is it that struck you most in the refugees explaining their plight?
The ability of so many people to share their stories with strangers in front of a camera is what struck me most in the camps. It was my first experience in that sort of situation. You have to be very respectful of the people you are interviewing when they are telling you personal things from their past that are so painful.
"Eviction" has been described as "touching" and "stirring". As the filmmaker, what touched you the most?
Not from the point of view of a filmmaker but from the point of view of just another person, what touched me most in the camps was the hospitality shown to me and my crew by the refugees. My crew members and I all made very close friends that we are still in contact with today.
How many festivals and countries has the film toured?
Eviction has played at film festivals in Australia and Nepal. It has also been screened at refugee related events in Europe and North America. I am also happy to say that the Triumphant Refugees Film Festival in Australia translated the film into six languages.
What do you hope to achieve with the film?
What I truly hope is that the work I have done with this film will somehow improve the lives and future prospects of these refugees. I hope that my efforts will result in something positive and tangible for these people.
What do you see as the way out for these long-time refugees?
My role as a filmmaker is to help bring to light the information that will assist the people who actually make decisions like that. It seems to me that a combination of repatriation and third country resettlement may be the best solution; a situation in which each individual is able to choose their own path without pressure and politics. Politics is a divisive force within their community. A prerequisite for repatriation is of course some sort of internal reformation in their homeland and international monitoring of the process for security.
What's your next project?
For my next project I plan to take a break from documentary films and shoot a fiction film here in Nepal. Perhaps a comedy.