MAYA‘s film crew is heading back to Nepal for a month tomorrow to shoot their upcoming short, ‘Chyanti’. Find out more about their director, Veemsen Lama, and his journey to becoming a filmmaker in my new profile piece…
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From battlefields to red carpets…
Saturday, 16th January. I’ve just arrived in front of Hackney Picture House, host of the London Short Film Festival this year. The cold winter wind is freezing the extremities of my body while I’m waiting for Veemsen, the film director of MAYA, the BKSTS Student Best Film of the year 2015 and a Raindance officially selected short film that is to be screened this afternoon. It doesn’t take long before I can see him cross the road, accompanied by two of his friends and collaborators, Tom Cullingham, his producer, and Michael Ling, his sound designer. After some warm greetings, the four of us enter the cinema, grab our tickets and go up to the second floor to find screen 3 and sit in the last row of the room. The show is now not late starting. Among the seven or so short films of the screening, the three young men are obviously all waiting to see their work on the big screen again. ‘MAYA is about survival, hopes and dreams’, Veemsen explains to me.
Shot in Nepali language, MAYA tells the authentic story of three homeless children, who escape from the slave traders and find themselves penniless, wandering in the streets of Kathmandu, Nepal, with only their hopes and dreams of happiness. After the screening, Arran Green, the director of photography for the short film, recalls that ‘Nepal is a fantastically vibrant country. It’s bursting with life and colour.’
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Nepal. This is exactly where Veemsen’s own story starts. The now 35-year-old man, with an olive skin, a three-day beard, almond-shaped eyes, and a casual outfit, grew up in a middle-class family. Very early on, Veemsen developed a passion for storytelling, notably thanks to various cult films. ‘My child influence was Hollywood. I used to watch all Hollywood’s films, action films, like Bruce Lee films, Jacki Chan films, and like Jean-Claude Van Damme films — big fan of Van Damme — Arnold films… We used to go see Rambo as well.’ He adds: ‘I really want to go to Hollywood one day and make a film.’
Veemsen explains to me that, in Nepal, parents want their sons to be doctors or engineers or pilots. ‘I was interested in biology, but in telling stories as well’, he says. So since there wasn’t any proper art schools in Nepal, he went to college and studied science. ‘Nepal is a poor country and one of the really good incomes is Gurkhas.’ he explains. ‘I didn’t have any connections with people abroad, but I wanted to come abroad and study and I thought that was one of the best ways to ‘come outside’ and find the opportunities. So I came to Britain as an army soldier.’ He clarifies: ‘that’s why I became a soldier. I didn’t have anyone to sponsor me and I wasn’t very rich, so you know…’
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In 2000, he went through ‘a physically and mentally tough selection’ by the British army, enlisting Nepalese people. ‘I had to do a lot of questionnaires, tests and physical running tests, carry weights like baskets, and run the hills and stuff like that — it was a really physically demanding test.’ he remembers. ‘You have to go, you have to pass and you have to score the points and obviously you have to be good at English as well — in writing and speaking — and you need to have a certain level of education.’ Once he passed, Veemsen was on his way to the UK, along with a group of 200 or so other Nepalese men, recruited by the British Armed Forces as Gurkhas, some sort of infantry soldiers.
His first steps to becoming a professional filmmaker were quite difficult. While he was still in the army, Veemsen met his wife in 2007 and later welcomed his now three-year-old daughter to the world. At the same time, ‘I wanted to continue my passion and tell stories’, he says to me. ‘It was really hard because I was doing full-time job as a soldier and I had to earn some income as well as look after my family. It was kinda difficult but I couldn’t actually quit my job straight away. So I started learning about filmmaking online, with like YouTube tutorials and books.’ he explains.
Sometime around 2012, there was a redundancy process in the army. ‘And my name was there’ Veemsen says. ‘I was basically cut down from the numbers in the army, but they gave me some time to decide what to do — at least a year — and I applied for uni. I got it and thought it was the best time to do what I love to do. And yeah, I started like that.’ he tells me.
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In September 2013, Veemsen started studying Digital Film Production at Ravensbourne. ‘I wanted to learn properly rather than learning just through YouTube and elsewhere on the Internet. I just wanted to go to film school and meet people and use those fancy cameras and… I just wanted to feel that, you know.’ he says.
Now a fresh graduate from the London university, Veemsen is working freelance, doing camera operator jobs, music videos, wedding videography and photography, and so on. He is also planning a lot for his next short film,Chyanti, which will be shot in Mustang (Nepal), preparing for his first feature film as well as attending the diverse festivals, to which his works take him and his team.
Today, Veemsen is also at the head of his own independent film production company, Javiya Films, which he named after his daughter. ‘I think she’s been the lucky person in my life, and my wife as well. That’s why I wanted to dedicate her my filmmaking journey.’
*Editor’s note: BKSTS stands for the British Kinematograph, Sound and Television Society