Filmmaking with Sue Carpenter – I Am Belmaya
Tell me a bit about yourself.
I worked print journalism and travel photography before joining charities that stemmed from articles I’d written. I set up Jaisalmer in Jeopardy to protect city in India, and am a trustee of Asha Nepal, fighting for exploited women in Nepal.
When did you first realise you wanted to make films?
In 2004, on Born into Brothels, the children of prostitutes in Kolkata were given cameras. They found joy and freedom through photography, which inspired me to do my photo project in Nepal. I’m drawn to truth, hidden stories, and standing up to injustices. I didn’t know how to make the leap from journalism or photography into documentaries, but the advent of digital cameras and editing software made filmmaking accessible, and I made my first film in 2015.
What is your favourite thing about films?
Evoke emotions and opening eyes to other worlds.
What classes or research did you take to support you in your filmmaking career?
I did an editing course in Adobe Premiere Pro, which opened up a whole world to me. Then two courses at the City Lit, one in general filmmaking, and one in documentary film. I actually did these courses after starting following Belmaya (she was training at the same time), and itt gave me invaluable skills and confidence.
What was your first film industry job?
I’ve always been a one-woman band in short filmmaking, My first job was, The Wonderful Walk, about the creation of a 40 metre mural for a station underpass, involving over 2,000 people. It started as a 10 minute film but grew to 30 minutes!
What was your toughest experience in your filmmaking career?
Making I Am Belmaya was really tough. Foreign languages and cultures are always challenging, and we came up against chauvinistic attitudes. With my NGO hat on, I didn’t want to disrupt Nepali culture, but my instincts as a woman often told me otherwise. My big lesson has been that, while respecting different cultures, if your instincts say you don’t trust something, you’re probably right.
What inspired you to make I Am Belmaya?
Belmaya herself was so charismatic and wore her heart on her sleeve. In Nepal, girls are taught to be demure and mask their emotions, but Belmaya found it hard not to blurt out when she felt and I found that edginess in her captivating. She shines a light on the reality of life for girls and women in Nepal and I was inspired to help her get that voice out to the world.
What is the main conflict of your film?
Belmaya’s husband and the patriarchal society. She had lived a life of struggle before I met her, which continued until a year into the filmmaking when things began to turn around. We saw the growing resentment from her husband, and how daring she is to take on filmmaking in a household and community that expects her to stay at home and do what she is told.
How long did you spend in production?
Five years with gaps in between, notably a year from April 2015, after the earthquake struck, and all work and communications in Nepal stopped.
How long did you spend in post-production?
A lot of the editing has been done along the way, starting in 2015, and after the final shoot in April 2019, it took another 4-6 months translating and editing, and during 2020, and another 6 months of fine-tuning, and working with the composer, sound editor and colourist after that. We completed in October 2020 – but with lockdown, couldn’t release until 2021.
Tell me something you were surprised by, something you had never realised about being a filmmaker.
How long it takes! Each stage requires huge dedication and effort to make it look effortless. I hoped documentaries would mean working in a team but it can still be solitary. As director/producer, the responsibility lies on your shoulders. but, like having a baby, once it’s out in the world and surrounded by celebratio, you forget the difficulties.
What are words of advice you have for other aspiring filmmakers?
Just do it, you can do it. The more you do, the more you realise you can do.
Give me your social links so people can come and find you!
@iambelmaya on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. www.belmaya.com for everything about the film.
I AM BELMAYA is now in cinemas and on demand at Curzon Home Cinema and BFI Player. www.belmaya.com