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For the Dreamers: Forging New Trails in Nepal

In October and November 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic, I traveled through Nepal with a small-but-mighty production team to complete filming for a short documentary film, titled DURGA: Forging a New Trail, about female guide Durga Rawal. This blog shares a moment from our time in Nepal and is my personal reflection on one element of the story we're telling.

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As the sun crawls closer to the mountains, I lean back in my tattered bus chair. I slide the window open completely and savor the cool, fresh air, a welcome friend on this overwhelmingly hot day and crowded bus. Our overnight ride from Pokhara to Nepalgunj is at capacity. People stand toward the front, and the drivers have conjured up stools for others to sit in the aisles. Our crew is lucky to have procured actual seats for the 13-hour bus ride.

Since landing in Nepal and starting production a week ago, I realize this is the first moment in which I've hit pause—on mapping out storylines, interviews and visuals; on organizing logistics and making sure we accomplish what needs to get done; on navigating relationships with and between people; on seeking to understand so much of Durga, the people in her life and Nepal's society, culture and history; on problem-solving and pivoting constantly; and on making sure we’re also all taking care of ourselves.

 

Two women hiking with cameras Image via Kopal Goyal

 

As our bus leaves Pokhara, I’m grateful for the relative silence of the towns surrounding the city. We cross a river. The momentary wide-open space allows me to more deeply breathe in Nepal's immense landscape. I stick my head out the window and take it all in. The hills and mountains here are unlike anything I've ever seen, and as the evening light highlights their layers, I feel as though I’m living in a dream. Really, I am.

 

Woman posing in a backpack Image via Kopal Goyal

 

“Wow. I’m actually here,” I think to myself. “I’m here in Nepal. I’m here with Durga filming this documentary—a story of female empowerment, gender equality and social impact—that’s been on my mind and in my heart, in one form or another, since 2015. I’m here alongside a special and talented group of artists and individuals collaborating on this story that Durga and I have been talking about since 2017. Seeing this project through is a dream of several years. It’s a dream I’m living.”

Today, as we close one chapter of production in Pokhara and enter another in the Mugu District, I take stock of where and how the seed, a slightly longer story, for this project was planted and all that’s transpired between that moment and the one I find myself in now.

I’m reminded that the pursuit of our dreams is not linear. There’s a push and pull, a give and take. I think, more often than not, the pursuit of our dreams is an evolution—a journey woven with ups and downs, twists and turns and so many unforeseen challenging and also gratifying moments.

 

Three women posing in front of their house Image via Kopal Goyal

 

What happens between the moment the seed for a dream is planted and the moment that dream comes to fruition is where we live, learn and grow. It’s where I am in this moment, doing all three of those things, especially learning. It’s where I’ll continue to be as we move through production, post-production and then release and distribution.

In getting to this stage of creating this film, myself, Durga, our crew and others have had to pivot countless times in ways both big and small. Storylines, plans, pitch decks, budgets, strategies to fund this film, schedules, crew members and so much more have all changed in some way. The evolutions were not and are not always easy. I’m reminded of Clara Bensen’s words in No Baggage: A Minimalist Tale of Love and Wandering: “Follow your dreams, but let go of the outcomes. Yes, we must dream our big dreams and our secret desires, but dream them lightly. Follow them nimbly. Adapt, flow, and alter course as life lobs unexpected surprises in our direction.”

 

Photo crew smiling for a selfie Image via Emily Hopcian

 

The realization of a dream might look different than the dream we set out with—and how we get to that “end goal” moment is certainly more packed than we could ever imagine. Durga, for instance, was actually not a part of the original vision for this film. Initially, I sought to tell the story of the organization she trained with and the agency she works for. Somewhere along the way, I decided it wasn’t all that interesting to tell the story of an organization and agency; I decided I wanted this to be a character-driven story about one of the women impacted by the organization and agency. Enter Durga.

I was struck by her story, particularly by her sheer will and determination to leave her hometown, create her own opportunities and pursue a life, and career, far different from anyone in her family and community. Durga’s story is one of pursuing her dreams and stepping into a life that is uniquely hers—in spite of the narratives set forth by her family and community and Nepal’s society and culture. I’m moved by Durga and am still wrapping my mind around the people, decisions, events, etc. that have molded her into the woman she is today and all she’s overcome.

 

Woman walking through a village Image via Kopal Goyal

 

To me, Durga’s primary dream was, and is, to have opportunities, to be able to have and make choices, to live an independent life. She left Bham Bada, her village in Nepal’s Mugu District, at 19 years old. She didn’t know where or how she would uncover the opportunities she sought but felt she needed to leave home to do so. Her journey unfolded from there. Durga wasn’t attached to one outcome. There were multiple ways to achieve her dream, and arriving to where she is today demanded adaptability and flexibility.

Durga is a woman living her dream. Simultaneously, in obvious and subtle ways, she’s a key character in the story of me living into my dream to create and share this film. I recognized early on that this is a film for the dreamers among us. Throughout production, and in the months to come, I continue to see that theme rise to the surface. Durga’s story resonates with those who feel called to live outside the narratives and norms set before us.

 

Woman carrying a basket thorough a village Image via Kopal Goyal

 

Following a night on the road—one full of colorful light displays for Tihar or Diwali, shouts throughout the bus for vomit bags and the stench that then snakes through the cabin following those bouts of excitement—the bus drops our crew on the side of the highway near Nepalgunj. Darkness turns to light as we wait for a puddle jumper to the Mugu District.

In Nepalgunj, Durga and I go for a walk to discuss the first half of production. As the city wakes up around us, among other things, we talk about the power of dreams. We talk about how I believe her story will resonate with people globally who have dreams in life and boldly go after them. Between Durga, our crew and the backpackers we’ve met throughout our time in Nepal, this is certainly true. There’s this spirit of dreaming big dreams, going after them boldly and living independently that’s woven throughout our various lives.

Our stories are different, but there's a common element of living “outside the box” and forging our own trails in the pursuit of our dreams. No two stories are the same. Our stories carry their own complexities. And while we cannot compare one story to another—one person to another—I am aware of, and also blind to, the privilege and different ingredients at play for each of us.

 

A house on a hill Image via Emily Hopcian

 

As I think about not only our dreams but also the telling and sharing of Durga’s story through film, I’m reminded that, just as there are multiple ways to pursue our dreams, there are also multiple ways to tell our stories. With dreams and stories, I think the best we can do is strive to live and create from the heart and soul of who we are, to do so authentically, honestly, bravely, flexibly and vulnerably.

Later that morning, we boarded a small plane to the Mugu District. We take off among a city and fields, and within 10 or 20 minutes, we’re flying between the mountains. I look from my window to the one just across the aisle. We’re sandwiched between two tree-covered mountains. Clouds hang low. The occasional road or path forms a zigzag up some of the mountains—or hills, as Durga calls them. It all feels a bit mystical. I’m in awe. Our whole crew is a bit giddy. I realize the vast majority of foreigners do not travel to the Mugu District. Not yet, at least. I’m grateful, once more, for this dream and experience and that this story with Durga and my life have led me here. In the pause, I’m reminded to take more moments like this, to take a breather and appreciate the moments, people, places and experiences that surround me.

 

Three women wearing traditional garb, posing for a photo Image via Kopal Goyal

 

Chasing and living into our dreams is a lifelong pursuit and constant evolution. My hope for all of us is that we never lose our thirst to go after that which sets our heart and soul on fire. My hope is that we savor the process of living into our dreams; that we pause and appreciate the “pinch me” moments; and that we’re willing to “adapt, flow and alter course” as we embrace the unknown and adventure of writing our own unique stories.

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Our team is running a crowdfunding campaign to raise the funds needed to go the last mile to complete editing and share DURGA: Forging a New Trail with the world. Now through August 28, 2020, an anonymous donor is matching all contributions, dollar for dollar, up to $1,000 USD. Learn more and contribute to the project today at https://ifundwomen.com/projects/durga-short-documentary-film.

 

Written by Emily Hopcian / Photographed by Kopal Goyal

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