Locals, Tourists in Nepal Star in Eye-Opening Short Film that Sheds Light on a Country Threatened by
Premiering at the BFI London Film Festival in October, “Ashmina’s” director uses real people to tell the touching story of one girl’s life in one of the world’s poorest countries.
LONDON, ENGLAND—Director Dekel Berenson’s latest short film, Ashmina, didn’t exactly happen overnight. For five years, he set out on an adventure to explore the far ends of the world such as the North Pole, and Mount Everest. It was on that trip to Nepal, in 2014, that inspired his latest, thought-provoking film. While in the country’s second largest city, Pokhara, to finish his training as a paragliding pilot, he encountered several local children who left a lasting impression on the UK/Israeli-based filmmaker.
“I was immediately captivated by the young children who were working in the landing field and instantly knew that I would one day return to Nepal to capture their story on film,” explained Berenson. “That’s what we did in early 2018.”
Nepal has a long history as the poorest country in South Asia—made only worse by a devastating earthquake in 2015 that killed 9,000 people and injured nearly 22,000 more. While tourism has many economic and social benefits to this region, some critics argue that too much of it is a bad thing. Some believe the influx of foreign visitors creates an unwanted middle class, increases crime, threatens indigenous identity, and poses a threat to the region's natural and cultural resources. Berenson tackles the country’s tourism challenges through the eyes of a 13-year-old local girl in the short, independent film titled Ashmina.
“Though many Nepali children live a life much harder than those in most first world countries, these children are resilient and wise beyond their years. Many have had to leave their childhoods behind in order to make ends meet and help provide for their struggling families. They are survivors,” stated Berenson.
Ashmina chronicles the story of a spirited Nepali girl living in a traditional society whose culture is threatened and challenged by the flood of tourists visiting it daily. The film’s believability comes from Berenson and his crew’s casting of only locals and foreigners visiting the area. Most had no major professional acting experience—including Fabian Gleeson, an Australian backpacker in Nepal who stopped his travels for six weeks to participate in filming.
“The whole crew was really supportive, and without them I probably would have lost a bit of hair,” Gleeson joked. “When they asked me to rehearse for the role, I thought it was just going to be a couple of guys with a hand held camera, you know. But boy was I wrong! Some of the biggest challenges for me were actually being in front of a crew.”
In the film, Gleeson plays the role of David, a paragliding pilot in his 30’s who Ashmina looks after. Forced to skip school, the film’s young lead character helps her family make ends meet by working at the landing field, packing the parachutes of foreign pilots in return for small change.
“I hope her story brings awareness to real issues that are kind of out of sight,” explained Gleeson. “I know when I arrived I was unaware of what was happening behind the scenes, but after meeting Dekel, I learnt that it’s not all peaches and cream as it may seem, and Ashmina’s story is a real issue.”
Gleeson’s young co-star, Dikshya Karki, who plays the film’s lead role spent more than six weeks in a landing field learning how to fold paragliders. She became so good at it that pilots started paying her for the job. Anyone who watches the film will likely think that she is, in fact, a real packing girl.
“I will always prefer to work with non-actors,” stated Berenson. “They don’t have high expectations going into a film. This results is much more natural performances which create a stronger sense of reality, which in turn makes it easier for the audience to forget themselves and be absorbed by the world of the film.”
Building on the filming success of Ashmina and the award winning producers who took part in it, Berenson and his team are now expanding the project into a full-length feature film. With the working title Broken Wings, the film will continue to draw inspiration from the director’s experiences gained while traveling the world between 2011-2015. Each of the film’s segments will be shot over an 18-month period in four different countries: Ukraine, Israel, Brazil & South Africa. The film's fifth and last segment will take place on a cruise ship, at sea. Berenson is the first independent film director to tackle such a geographical feat while telling the stories of five very different women who are faced with the consequences of living in patriarchal societies governed and controlled by men. Filming is expected to get underway in early 2019.
Ashmina will premiere at the BFI London Film Festival in October and then at other festivals around the world. To get updates on Ashmina, visit ashminafilm.com.
ABOUT DEKEL BERENSON: Passionate about writing and storytelling, Dekel has been shooting short “films” since he was 8 years old, using a VHS camcorder and a VCR for editing. When he was 21, after completing a mandatory three years’ service in the Israeli Defense Forces, he left his home country and moved to Budapest, London and New York before embarking on a five years long trip around the world, reaching far away places as the North Pole and Mount Everest. He returned to London in 2016 to write, direct, and produce his first film - The Girls Were Doing Nothing. The film has since been screened at dozens of festivals and received critical acclaim. His second short film, Ashmina, was inspired by his travels and is being turned into a full-length feature. The film will be made of five segments, each shot in a different country, and will capture the struggles that women face around the world, regardless of their age, race, or social background.