Icíar Bollaín • Director
by Alfonso Rivera
27/01/2012 - The sixth film by the actress-director, co-written with Paul Laverty, transports viewers to the Nepalese capital, where a young Catalan teacher (played by Verónica Echegui, nominated for the Best Actress Goya) arrives to teach poor children, finding herself in the process. This true story was captured in the book A Teacher In Kathmandu, written by Vicky Sherpa. In Kathmandu: A Mirror in the Sky, the director of Even the Rain [trailer, film focus] invites us to discover this moving story, filmed in beautiful settings that have been declared a World Heritage site.
Cineuropa: What attracted your attention about this real-life experience for you to want to tell the story in images?
Icíar Bollaín: The book was like the diary of someone who gets into a fine mess: a woman going away to the Nepal of twenty years ago, discovering a terrible educational scene and the poverty of the shanty towns. What caught my attention was this personal journey, the determination of someone with an immense vocation for changing things and who, along the way, also finds herself: I thought this was very interesting.
The protagonist of your film has to go far away in order to find her place.
Yes, there are people who seek to come into contact with another culture. You can reinvent yourself abroad. Our family history sometimes weighs us down and in another place you are what you want to be. For many people this is very liberating, as is the case with this woman, who came from a very dysfunctional family: there, as a teacher, she reinvents herself.
What was the most complicated aspect of the film’s whole production process?
The most complicated aspect was talking about a culture that I didn’t know, which is 6,000 kilometres away. The film shoot there was also quite an unusual experience, because you go to a place where added to the production difficulties are the daily difficulties that they suffer, and there were also situations of non-understanding, although they spoke in English. But it was a very interesting experience, because everything is an adventure there, even in such simple things as arriving at someone’s house: the streets have no name in Kathmandu. Everything was an effort but, at the same time, very stimulating. When you return to Europe and compare it, you realise how simple it is living here.
How many weeks did you spend filming in Nepal?
Eight. It’s not a complicated film, but things are difficult there because they are difficult for them. For example, we were there during the period before the rainy season, the rivers were running very low and there were daily power cuts of 12 and 14 hours.
The film has an almost documentary tone at times.
We had to do an adaptation, because the action takes place 20 years ago and Kathmandu has completely changed: it has really grown and it’s chaos. We went away to shoot for a few days in a small city, Bhaktapur, with quieter streets. We thought about recreating scenes outside of Nepal, but the film gains from being shot in the place where what you’re describing actually happened: that truth is captured on screen. We also did a casting among the mothers who live in the shanty town, we looked for those who knew how to act in front of the camera. In that respect, it’s a bit like a documentary, but you create the situation, you choose the right people and you bring everything together.
How much did the film cost?
About €3m, less than Even the Rain. Filming abroad is never cheap and, what’s more, Nepal has less film infrastructure than Bolivia. Over there, the film industry is very small and we had to bring everything. Sometimes, Bollywood goes there to film for two or three weeks, so that’s why they were so amazed by our film shoot.