VOD film review: I Am Belmaya
Filmmaker in action8
Ivan Radford | On 15, Oct 2021
Director: Sue Carpenter, Belmaya Nepali
Cast: Belmaya Nepali
Where to watch I Am Belmaya online in the UK: Netflix UK / BFI Player / Curzon Home Cinema
“I want to stand on my own feet and show them what a girl can do.” Those are the words of Belmaya Nepali, a filmmaker, woman, mother and all-round incredible human. That powerful statement of intent runs right through this moving documentary, all the way up to its title.
Belmaya has been inspired by cameras ever since she picked one up at the age of 14. Her life, though, has been one of opposition and obstacles that have kept her from following that passion. Co-directed by Sue Carpenter, this documentary takes us through the decade-plus of hardships that she has overcome, from bullying school teachers that discouraged her education to an abusive husband.
Orphaned at the age of 9, she moved to a girls’ home where her hopes for positive change were dashed, and photography became a way to express herself. But it wasn’t until 2014 that she rediscovered her relationship with the lens, and she learnt about documentary filmmaking. Her path crossed with Sue’s through the latter’s “My World, My View” photo project, and this collaboration builds on their trust and friendship but also serves as an introduction to Belmaya as a talent in her own right.
Carpenter depicts Belmaya’s story with a sensitivity and unflinching intimacy, but it’s strength lies in the way we get to see her in action now – as she takes hold of the storytelling for herself. It’s telling that she’s interested in using filmmaking not to focus on her own struggles but to show the struggles of other women in Nepal, shining a light on the harsh reality faced by Dalit girls in her country.
The more the film goes on, the more we get to glimpse Nepali’s work, building up effectively to her graduation film, Educate Our Daughters, which she presents alongside own eight-year-old, Bipana. The result is at once painful and powerful, an uplifting ode to the power that can come through wielding a camera – and the inspiring strength and resilience of someone reclaiming their own story. While this is a joint achievement, its greatest success is that it leaves you itching to see whatever Belmaya does on her own next.
I Am Belmaya is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £9.99 monthly subscription.