For anyone who has watched the epic film “Himalaya”, one can easily feel nothing but respect for filmmaker Eric Valli and the film crew for attempting something so challenging and also dangerous.
Eric Valli has lived in Nepal but he was not filming in a populated area with streets, his goal was to capture the upper Dolpa people who live in the mountains, where there are no roads, no vehicles (according to wikipedia, as of 2012, there is now one vehicle in the area) and people still follow their customs.
But it’s the cultural tradition of capturing the trek that these people have in trading salt for wheat, crossing mountains with their villagers and yaks over long distances for weeks. In order for their villagers survival during the harsh three months of -15F temperatures.
But possibly aside from the environmental challenges for Valli and the film crew, the challenges of working with non-actors from the upper Dolpa district. People who were disturbed from their everyday routine for eight months and suffice to say, it was testing the patience of the villagers, especially village chief Thilen Lhondup who plays the main character Tinle.
To maintain a sense that even with this foreign film crew, to not lose face in front of his people and show that he is the boss. So, the film crew had to walk a fine line and it became a stressful situation, compounded by the fact that the film was shot so high up in the mountains that the film crew could only work five hours due to respiratory issues because they were not accustomed to the very high altitudes.
Also, there were no cars, no roads, so as the caravan had to walk, as did the film crew (in terrible weather conditions at times). The only way of getting equipment was via helicopter but even then, these were significant challenges.
So, it was surprising that “Himalaya” was even made, but Eric Valli and the film crew managed to pull it off and to create a film that captures the cultural traditions of those living in the remote mountain region of Dolpa.
But as the Himalaya surroundings play a major role with this film, it’s also the people that brought this film to life. Thilen Lhondup was magnificent as the main protagonist and this village chief may not be a professional actor but somehow he looked as he was. He brings a variety of emotions to the film and seemed believable.
The film utilized two real actors, one being Gurgon Kyap who plays the role of the young adult Karma and actress Lhakpa Tsamchoe, who plays Passang’s mother and also love interest for Karma. These two characters bring the romantic element for the film.
But “Himalaya” revolved around the character Tinle and also his grandson Passang, played by the very young Karma Wangel who brings a humorous side to the film because of his curiosity.
Overall, “Himalaya” is a film that I respect Eric Valli and the filmcrew for taking on major risk and challenges to get this film made. I respect Thilen Lhondup and the Dolpa villagers for allowing the filmmakers to film them especially for eight months straight. But what Valli was able to capture is a culture not many people know about or are familiar with. Their long-standing cultural traditions that have been practiced for many generations.
Attempting to get people (non-actors) from a remote village, filming in a remote area with a film crew having to endure high altitudes and terrible weather and trying to capture something so beautiful, deep and memorable is quite rare in cinema today and not sure if anything like this can ever be made ever again.
A visually stunning film, Eric Valli’s “Himalaya” is highly recommended!