A heartwarming documentary detailing triumph over adversity, I Am Belmaya follows a Nepali girl struggling to find her voice in an oppressive community. Belmaya Nepali is a member of a lower caste Dalit group in rural Nepal. Born female, Belmaya is therefore subjugated to the demands of the blinkered and repressive male forces around her. She escapes her rural community when she and her parents encounter tragedy, heartbreakingly and matter of factly told by Belmaya herself in I Am Belmaya, and finds solace in taking pictures with a camera.
Though she tried to learn photography, Belmaya’s teachers believed she was only worthy of manual labour or looking after children. Ambitions and dreams shattered, she married and had a child with an abusive husband before finding her voice again as a filmmaker. This journey is documented with wit and heartbreaking detail by Belmaya in the film. Her mentors, producer Laxcha Bantawa and co-director Sue Carpenter are advocates for empowering women through the organisation Global Girl Media UK. Through them, Belmaya learns about camera shots, discovers the difference between fiction and documentary and gradually grows in confidence and grit.
She is wonderfully engaging and unfettered in her addresses to the camera, sharing the struggles she has and how she is determined her daughter will not have to deal with the same prejudice that she did. In communities where women are not supposed to have a voice and are threatened with death by their husbands if they do not toe the line, her resilience is breathtaking. Beautifully and intimately shot, displaying the beautiful mountainous countryside of her home, I Am Belmaya is a celebration of a life grasped against the odds. And indeed, it’s moving when Belmaya proudly shows off her short film to the community and family that had believed she could achieve nothing of worth. As Belmaya herself says: “Because of filmmaking, my inner strength has grown. I’ve learned to advocate for myself. Now I’m unafraid to speak my mind, no matter what others think.”
A film well worth watching during the week of International Day of the Girl, I Am Belmaya shows what the world should be encouraging more of, as well as the constant struggles women and girls still suffer around the globe. A very necessary documentary.
Dir: Sue Carpenter/Belmaya Nepali (12A 80 mins)
In Cinemas and on Curzon Home Cinema and BFI Player from 15 October
words KEIRON SELF