Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Highway to Dhampus is lovely, inspiring and heart-breaking at the same time

Movie:    Highway to Dhampus

Rating:    PG

Grade:   A-

In a Nutshell:   This is not a fast-moving action flick, but a very sophisticated, simple journey of the soul.  It’s lovely and inspiring and heart-breaking all at the same time.

Written and directed by Utah filmmaker Rick McFarland, this indie film recently won several “Best Film” awards including the Madrid International Film Festival, the SoHo International Film Festival and the Heartland Film Festival.

When I asked Director Rick McFarland what inspired him to write this film, he told me "The characters and messages in the film are all based off of qualities that I want to have or wish I didn't, and experiences that I've had in my life--but I did't want to tell the story of me or my life. I wanted to transpose these things that were personal into a story that was more allegorical and less literal, more romantic and less pedestrian than my life could show. Living well, loving, giving, being kind and changing--all things I wish I knew how to do better."

This is the first indie feature film shot entirely in Nepal by a foreign director and crew.  It opens October 9th in select theaters.  Check this web site to find out if it’s going to be playing in your neighborhood:  http://www.highwaytodhampus.com 

Uplifting Theme:
·         “It’s not really an effort to make a change in the big picture.” – Elizabeth James (played by Rachel Hurd-Wood)
·         We don’t serve to change the world.  We serve to change ourselves. - (me....Trina Boice...quick, somebody quote me!)
·         Namaste means please, thank you, and welcome. What a touching concept.
-    Love, kindness, charity, doing what's right

Things I liked:
·         The music in the film features a Bansuri flute.  It's a wooden flute that is a very typical native instrument in Nepal.  I asked McFarland about it and he said "We tried to also weave a very well known Nepali melody into the music--a folk tune called Himalayan Trekking Song." 
-    Laxmi is such a sweet character.  The lovely Suesha Rana plays her beautifully.  Her stirring reaction at the end of the movie brought me to tears.
-        I love learning other languages and so I noticed the term “Babu” mentioned several times. When I asked about it,  McFarland explained it as: "Babu is a term of endearment--it simply means "boy," but with the warmest familial connotations. I repeated it in the script a bunch between Laxmi and Prabhujee, in an effort to familiarize the viewer with the word. The hope was that as we heard Mahendra call Ajit babu in the third act, that we would get a subtle sense of the father-son relationship that they have." 

-  I loved seeing the bustling street scenes, landscapes from the plane,  and charming people of Nepal.
·         I liked how Colt (Gunner Wright) started up a friendship with Ajit (Raj Ballav Koirala) immediately.  Their relationship deepens and you get to experience growth in everyone in the movie in this true character study.
·         Elizabeth looked ridiculous in her fur coat sitting next to the poor orphans.  The contrast between how she physically looked in the beginning and end revealed her inner transformation as well.  She even lightens her hair to illustrate her illumination.
·         There are quite a few music montages with songs that range from instrumental to more modern ballads on the guitar.  They carry the feeling of the movie, although they also seem like lazy writing when there are so many of them.
·         I really loved how McFarland chose to finish the story.  It was powerful, simple, and understated, just like the entire movie.
·         Prabhujee is adorable.  He is played by Sayush Gurung Bajracharya.
·         Reincarnation is a common belief in Nepal.  I thought it was poignant when Ajit looked up and saw the bird flying in the sky over a cremation site.
·         The cinematography is beautiful.  I would have loved to see even more.

Things I didn’t like:
·         The subtitles flash so quickly that you don’t have time to read AND spend time really observing the faces of the characters as they speak.  Don't worry.  The entire film is not in a foreign language.
·         The air really is dirty there in the big city.  Ick.
·         Colt’s personality seems so uneven. One moment he’s playing tenderly with the children and the next moment he’s bad-mouthing them.  His unkind outburst to Elizabeth when she was reading a book to the orphans was odd coming from a guy who seemed so sensitive and easy-going earlier.  He crushes her spirit again in the car on the way to the airport after their second trip to Nepal.  I suppose it's meant to be ironic that he's criticizing her for being shallow when he is also.
·         There are a few strange edits and cuts that are distracting.
-     The movie needed more MONKEYS!
-     It's a bit slow-moving.

Funny lines:  
·         “Look at the mountain.  It’s ‘namaste-ing” to the whole world.  So, when you Namaste back to the mountain, it bestows you with peace, progress, and prosperity.” – AJ
“I’m the first one to do that, right?” = Colt
“Actually, I just made that up.” – AJ
·         “I bought this stuff.  I don’t even know what it is.” – Elizabeth
·         “I’ve heard that the girls like scars.” – Mahendra Sharma (played by Deshbhakra Khanal)
“Yeah, I’m really dreamy.” - Ajit

Things to look for:
·         The beginning of the movie starts with a poem: “As the little heart leaf of the bettle tree, grows my love for you.   Day and night.  Day and night.  Ebbing and swelling like the Marshyangdi it flows and flows.“   Marshyangdi is a mountain river in Nepal.  It's the perfect imagery to illustrate how two people in the movie come together, as that particular river starts from a confluence of two rivers.

Tips for Parents:
·         There is a scene where Elizabeth is taken to a sacred temple where people burn bodies of their loved ones who have died.  While Westerners are often frightened by such an image,  to those in Nepal, it is an honorable ceremony that demonstrates respect.
-   Young children may be a bit bored watching the story.
-    No profanity or sexual innuendos.  This is a family-friendly film.
·     After you see the movie, you and your family will want to do more to help others who are suffering in the world.  FiftyFilms and Highway to Dhampus have partnered with Mind the Gap Worldwide to help raise money to send to Nepal.  You can learn more at www.mindthegapworldwide.com
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