Your search keywords:

Nepali migrants’ sorrows and sufferings in reel

Nepali migrants’ sorrows and sufferings in reel

Anja Strelec is a Croatian film and audiovisual director and photographer, who lives and works in Brussels. Her award-winning documentaries, which have focused mainly on social issues, have been shown around the world at international festivals and on television. She has also participated in solo and group exhibitions of photography and new media in Croatia and abroad, including in France, Slovenia, Germany, Italy, Greece and Belgium.

Anja Strelec has obtained a Master's degree in Audiovisual and Film Production from the Paul-Valéry Faculty in Montpellier and a Master's degree in Audiovisual and Film Directing from the University of Toulouse-Mirail, France.

In addition to artistic activities through various visual formats, she has been working as an independent audiovisual and film director for Belgian television, the European Commission and international organizations such as UNICEF for the past 15 years. She also conducts film, audiovisual and photography workshops, among others, for European Union delegations and film students in countries such as Eritrea, Guinea, Ghana, Senegal and Bangladesh.

Directed by Strelec, ‘Where Have All The Smiles Gone’ is also being screened among others at 11th Nepal Human Rights International film Festival (NHRIFF) from 9-12 December at Tourism Development Board and Film Development Board. Ken Subedi conversed with Anja Strelec regarding her own experiences with the documentary.

You filmed the documentary 'Where Have All The Smiles Gone’ at the invitation of a Nepali production company. How did the collaboration start and how did you react when he offered you to shoot a film about Nepali migrant workers?

I have been working on social topics for several years through TV reports and documentaries, even more intensively after my arrival in Brussels eight years ago, where I am associated with a number of organizations and associations that focus on migration, minorities, social injustice and similar topics.

Producer Chandra Kant Jha from the production company Mountain River Films contacted me through LinkedIn and presented me with the idea for the project. He saw my portfolio and thought that I fit the profile he was looking for, considering my previous work. It is also about the technical aspects, because the directors are often also sound and video recordists and come with their own equipment. I found the topic extremely interesting and important, and started researching it more intensively. After agreeing on logistical and creative aspects, we made some framework for the story of what it should look like. This process took a few weeks. 

How long and in what way did you research the topic before starting to realize the story?

The preparations were extensive and the research lasted longer than the recording itself, we had to be very careful not to get any wrong information. Of course, it is impossible to control everything, especially since sometimes you have to improvise in order to make the story as authentic as possible. We received information from different sources and it was necessary to somehow make a selection and study the statistics well, but since the main idea came from the Nepali production, it was much easier because they had the right picture on the ground and they needed someone to shape it into a movie story.

The documentary shows the plights and blues of migrant Nepali workers where the production team has to deal with emotions of the interviewees which can be challenging. How did you manage to cover the emotions without being carried away?

It was very difficult to interview the people and listen to their tragic stories. However, they felt the need to share their stories and experiences so that others would have a better picture of what is happening to migrant workers. So, no matter how difficult it was to listen to their stories, there was this greater goal of transmitting it objectively to the world.

Which situations had the most impact, what was the most shocking for you?

Working on a project like this and with a topic like this inevitably brings a series of new, striking situations, conversations and information and undoubtedly leaves a mark. For example, take the airport in Kathmandu, which is a place of great contrasts. It is a small airport, but several flights arrive daily, and families of workers often wait for their loved ones in the lobby behind the glass door partitions in fear because they have no information whether the family members are returning alive or dead. Corpses of deceased workers arrive at the airport from abroad every day along with westerners with backpacks, who want to hike in the Himalayas or simply seek spirituality. I think this was the most shocking thing to watch the simultaneous exit through the small airport doors of the happy and satisfied tourists and caskets with dead Nepali migrant workers. Each conversation also left a lasting impression and brought new knowledge, especially with migrants, who have returned because each story is special and difficult.

How are people reacting to the film?

I am glad to say that the film has a very good reception–it was already screened at around 15 film festivals across the world and the audience really resonates with and is interested in the topic. The film has received three awards so far–Audience Award for the best international short documentary film at Chania Film Festival, Special Jury Award for short documentary at Workers’ Unite Film Festival in New York and the Award for Best Human Rights Film at Hummingbird International Film Festival in India. I really hope that this documentary reaches as many people as possible, starts conversations and helps bring about positive changes.