The Pains of Documentary Making

Yesterday, one of the young men I interviewed for the documentary, Untouchable Love, called me. I was happy, and wanted to learn a little bit of news from him, since I had not heard from them since October, when I did the interviews. I had tried to call him a few days back, but he was not available near the phone and his younger brother must have passed on the news to him.

Shooting part of the documentary, Untouchable Love, in Surkhet district, Nepal, one cold morning.

Well, it turned out to be a not so interesting conversation, because he asked me to fix him up with a job, and I did not know what to say to him. I thought we could have just had a chat, like friends, and say happy new year to each other, and ask about each other’s families. But no, he wants a job, and what can I tell him?
It made me feel bad, for here is a man who offered his story, whose story is probably going to help me start a career, and who is not getting any kind of direct reward from it.

And I feel ashamed. Though there is all this crap about advocacy and awareness raising to improve protection for the rights of youth who want to choose their own marriage partners in Nepal, I don’t see how this documentary will do that unless someone puts in money to promote it, and the issue it is dealing with. Most likely, it will end up doing its rounds of film festivals, get a few claps, and in a few years no one will be talking about it, and the situation of lovers in Nepal might not be better off.

Two other couples had asked me for money before, and for a brief second I almost reached into my pocket. But how much could I give them if not a few rupees? Whatever amount I gave, they might start to think that I had more to give them – or that I was given money to pass on to them and I instead gave them half of it. So I didn’t give them anything.

But it makes me wonder whether I should have, or if I had links to a job, if I should give it to this young man. But wouldn’t that be like paying them to tell a story, and that makes them actors, and not characters in a documentary?

Of course, if the film sells – big IF – I’ll take pains to pass on as much of the money to them as I can. But right now, I feel like I’m simply using them as stepping stones, turning their misery into entertainment for people who will not even care to know their names, or who will forget their stories a week after they’ve seen the film. I do feel very bad.


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