In the heart of Kathmandu, walking down the streets of the Nepalese capital and looking over the Himalayas there was a team of young people about to shoot their next short film, called MAYA. Right beside film director Veemsen Lama stood his director of photography, Arran Green. Both protagonists, accompanied by their crew, were getting ready to tell the story of three homeless children fighting to survive for their hopes and dreams…
The first few days on site were dedicated to some location. ‘After we’d arrived in Kathmandu we all went around location scouting.’ Arran says. ‘This was a very Indian/Nepalese experience. We would see a half-built building – very dangerous, a health & safety nightmare, and trying to get permission would have been impossible. But no. We just shouted to a guy across the street “Can we shoot here?” “Yeah sure” he said. And… Deal!’ He then adds: ‘this was amazing because it meant we could almost shoot anywhere. The varied locations really increased the authenticity of the film I think. It was very hard at times and we put in very long hours, but the end result was so rewarding it made every last bit worth it.’
After having travelled to India six times, Arran was familiar with the colours of the region’s landscapes and was thus naturally the perfect candidate for the cinematography of the Nepalese filmmaker’s project. ‘In a way I thought this was the perfect project for me. This was a story about children in poverty, and I think poverty could be considered to be quite a grey, dirty subject matter. But at the same time, these children are in an extremely colourful environment! Veemsen and I particularly wanted to capture that atmosphere.’ Arran explains.
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Scouting the field was now behind them and it was time to get down to some shooting business. Inspired by real events, MAYA was inspired by Veemsen’s visit to Nepal a few years ago, when he witnessed the horrifying poverty some Nepalese children were living in. When it came to the camerawork specifically, Arran recalls ‘shooting in Nepal is incredibly rewarding’. ‘Because the location did so much of the job for me’ he says. He paused and continued: ‘looking over the Himalayas and being able to capture that entire world was fantastic! Veemsen and I did very little planning from a cinematography perspective. In a sense I think that worked, I think it enabled us to be very creative and open minded to coming up with ideas on the go.’
While filming MAYA, Veemsen wasn’t too fussed on how to shoot, Arran remembers. ‘He let me be very free on creating the look of the film from my interpretation of the script. There were obviously certain shots he wanted and certain sequences he wanted to be shot in a certain way. He didn’t really care much for the shot list – I think. I remember him saying “That’s your job”, I thought fair enough. He was much more interested in the characters and the overarching story.’
After long working hours and the huge effort put into the project, the two young men learnt to know more about each member of their team. As for Arran, he says ‘working with Veemsen was incredibly rewarding… He is such a passionate storyteller and filmmaker. It was the first time I had ever worked with him. He really likes to get emotionally involved in the story and he is an incredibly visual director, which was fantastic for me because he really cared about the visual element of the story.’
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After a week or so of filming, it was a wrap, and MAYA was now on its way to post-production. The entire crew invested a lot of hope in this project, and a year later MAYA’s director of photography recalls all of them – ‘hope that the film has done something towards raising awareness for the children of Nepal, hope it has done something to raise awareness for the earthquakes that stroke the country in April 2015, and hope that the $2,000 the team managed to raise did good and helped the people who suffered.’ But Arran also mentions the hope to see MAYA ‘encourage filmmakers to explore and create stories from amazing experiences around the world’.
One year on, the short film celebrates its success and presence at some of the most acknowledged festivals in London. In 2015, MAYA was part of the official selection of Raindance and won BKSTS Student Best Film of the year. At the beginning of this year, the short film was officially selected and screened at the London Short Film Festival. And most recently, MAYA has been nominated for “Best Drama” at the Screentest Student Film Festival and for the ‘Triton Award’ at Valletta Film Festival, selected by the London Independent Film Festival, and long listed for the One World Media Awards.
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* Editor’s note: BKSTS stands for the British Kinematograph, Sound and Television Society *