by Jarett Theberge
An award-winning Nepali filmmaker may have found his “dream project” in Akron.
Writer and director Binod Paudel was inspired by the stories of the Bhutanese refugees from Nepal, some of whom have called Akron their home for more than a decade now.
While reading a BBC article about the Nepali Bhutanese community, Binod saw the journey of the Bhutanese refugees to the United States and says it was “very emotional” for him. He says this stems from an identity crisis the refugees have been facing since leaving Bhutan for Nepal, only to be denied citizenship there after 20 years as refugees. And while emigrating to the United States has opened up opportunities for them, it is another case of starting over in another country.
“If you go to the Bhutanese people and ask, ‘where are you from?’, they have a question mark on them because they don’t have a proper answer,” Binod says. “They are not from Nepal, they are from Bhutan, but Bhutan never accepted them.”
Binod works as a CEO of the College of Film Studies at Oscar International College in Kathmandu, Nepal. He visited a friend in Akron a few years ago, and upon his arrival, he took notice of neglected factories and began to ask questions about the history of the tire industry and city.
“The first impression I had in my mind when I was driving from the bus station into Akron, I saw some of the factories and they were shut down. They looked deadly.”
But despite that first impression, Binod found that the Bhutanese in Akron were a thriving community. The person Binod was staying with described Akron as a shrinking city before the Bhutanese arrived, and said that parts of the city were coming alive once again.
This inspired Binod to make a movie set in Akron.
“When I came and saw everything, the layers of Akron and the layers of people, I said, ‘this would be my dream project.”
Binod believes none of this would have been possible if it weren’t for the city government and the people of Akron being as inviting and understanding as they have been.
“Here people are integrated. Back to other cities, people are separated and spread all over the place. They mix sometimes, but it’s not like in Akron where people are doing agriculture, helping each other with organizations by bringing communities together. These things you don’t find in other cities,” Binod says. “There are some good people around here that believe in humanity.”
Bhutanese immigrants have faced hardships in the U.S., including suicide rates twice that of the U.S. population as a whole, WKSU reported in 2015. But Binod doesn’t think these should define the group. He hopes to highlight their optimism with his next film.
“The world needs some positive vibrations, so I’m not putting so much pain inside the movie. I can’t avoid that entirely, but at the same time there are a lot of positive things that are going on, joyful things, interesting things, like Subba becoming an officer.”
“Subba” refers to Damber Subba, who recently became an Akron police officer after spending 17 years in refugee camps.
After deciding that Akron, a city on the other end of the planet from Kathmandu, would be the setting for his next film, Binod got to work on research. He shot a short documentary here last year that will act as the basis for the feature film he is developing.
“I never felt that I would be making a film in Akron before. In my mind I thought I was just going to make a movie about the Bhutanese Nepali community. I didn’t have any connections in the United States,” he says.
On top of finding resources for his film in another country, Binod is taking a creative risk by featuring immigrants in Akron as actors in the film. While some may have training in theater, most have never acted before.
But if he is to create a realistic as possible world for his movie, Binod believes he needs talent that can relate to the story.
“This is their story. I believe in a very realistic approach, and I’m not making this movie for a commercial or business approach. I want to create the value of art in cinema. For that, you need to choose actors who can understand the psychology and real behavior of their own people,” he says.
While he has a few people in mind for roles, Binod has yet to let any of them know. But he hopes the opportunity will uplift Akron’s Bhutanese residents in a creative fashion.
“As a director, that puts very big pressure on me, but I want to take the pressure. I believe in authorship and direction and I don’t believe in putting pressure on other people. As a creator, I should take that responsibility, because that is my dream,” he says.
This realistic atmosphere and theme of positivity that Binod aims to portray in his work is consistent with his last directorial venture, Bulbul. The film follows a young mother who falls in love with one of her taxi passengers while supporting her daughter and ailing father-in-law.
“In today’s world, love and romance are very much important, because people are going crazy, I believe, in the name of god, religion, politics,” he says. “People have forgotten the love of people. People have forgotten to love, actually. So love has to be one of the main factors in the movie in an aesthetic way.”
His Akron film does not yet have a screenplay or working title, but Binod will be staying in Akron until July.
Akronites can attend a free screening of Bulbul at the Exchange House on June 22 at 6 pm.
Jarett Theberge is a student at Kent State University and a summer intern at The Devil Strip.