Most people know Ramyata Limbu as a journalist, filmmaker, and festival director for the Kathmandu International Mountain Film Festival (KIMFF). She knows herself as a mother, a professional working woman, and a communicator. Since Limbu started her career in the print medium, she has been a journalist for almost two decades and has served as a correspondent for numerous national and international publications.
Limbu has also co-produced two independent documentaries, ‘Daughters of Everest’, which follows the story of the first-ever team of women Sherpas to ascend Everest, and ‘The Sari Soldiers’ which retells the story of six Nepali women that find themselves at the forefront of the Maoist insurgency in Nepal.
Currently, she is the Festival Director for the Kathmandu International Mountain Film Festival, where she helps organize an annual competitive mountain film festival. KIMFF showcases films that attract peer review and critiques that lead to better documentation of mountain issues, particularly of highland regions of the developing world.
In your own words could you tell us about yourself?
I’ve been working as a journalist for national newspapers and in the mainstream media for almost 20 years. Professionally, I’ve always been in the communication field. As my career progressed, I moved to the audiovisual field, and currently, I’m busy organizing film festivals.
Now that I’m in my early 50s after more than thirty-odd years as a working woman; I am currently building capacity for the younger generation of journalists, filmmakers, communicators, and young women leaders who are working in NGOs.
Throughout my career, I’ve had the opportunity to work in the communication sector with leaders, entrepreneurs, young people, and fellow journalists. So, my primary focus today is to try and share what I have learned and gathered over many years of working in the communication sector with the next generation of communicators and media practitioners.
You began your career as a journalist and a communicator in the 90s. What was it like to be a working woman during the time the Nepali media space was opening up?
There were very few women in media during that time. For me, this was both a challenge and an opportunity. Since there were so few of us, there was the opportunity and you just had to reach out and take it. So, I’d like to think that I benefited from the challenge in that aspect.
Today the number of women in media has increased. Back then there were no women in media at that time, especially in newsrooms. Right now, it’s encouraging to see that there are quite a few in mainstream media. These days, especially because of online media and digital spaces, you get to see lots of young girls and women engaging in media.
However, I do think many of the issues remain the same. Issues of discrimination and gender inequality in the workspace. I feel like there is still a divide between men and women at the workplace.
In terms of inclusion, we are still not as inclusive as we can be in the working space. When I say this, I’m talking about the communication and media field as it is my area of focus. But I do believe that it is the general reflection in all other fields as well. We still don’t have many senior women in gatekeeping positions such as editors. But it is slowly changing. Younger generations are raising questions on the matter, and are more motivated and capable of breaking the old mold.
More women filmmakers have come forward to tell their own stories. How encouraging is this?
The number of young women who want to tell their own stories is increasing because they are tired of other people making stories about them which in honesty do not have their voice in it. But what I believe is important for them is to have an enabling environment. It’s important to create a developmental space for them; which I see many organizations are currently working on.
There are some individuals who have taken on the challenge and who have been able to work in the mainstream media sphere. Nevertheless, enabling space is still important to create and provide that space and just give that push. I’m not saying that it’s not there but they just need someone to give them a push or to better put it encourage them.
Reflecting on my experience running KIMFF, as a journalist and conducting capacity-building workshops, and running other programs in KIMFF, I’ve noticed that more and more women directors and filmmakers come forward with their films and stories through ‘Nepal Panorama’, a separate platform we have created where we screen Nepali films. I find this very encouraging and empowering.
You mentioned the importance of creating an environment where youths and future communicators can express themselves. Apart from that; what can we as a stakeholders do to make the environment better for both men and women filmmakers of the future?
I think there are lots of things we can do. We cannot look into it from a single perspective. There are so many things that can be done at an individual level, community level, and government level for the people in the creative field. There should be a collective effort.
On an individual level, a person will do what he or she can. Not that I am saying that the support is not there. But I believe we need more support from interested stakeholders and from the governmental level.
Plus, I believe it is important that the Film Development Board create a space where young people can express themselves. As far as I know, the Film Development Board during the tenure of the previous Chairman Dayaram Dahal, have been conducting programs where they have been engaging young people by conducting programs and discussions.
We had a very good working relationship through KIMFF and the Film Development Board where we conducted a number of forums for women filmmakers as well as established a fellowship for young filmmakers. But the main concern is that, for the creative arts to flourish the government should create space and establish policies that should benefit the field.
For example, in a short spanof years, the South Korean film industry and film festivals such as Busan International Film Festival have grown to be world-renowned. The government support the industry recieved and the policies influencing them were drafted in such a way that their creative arts received ample space to work.
Today in the world of cinema, when you talk about South Korean or Iranian films everyone has a high expectations. Why? Because they received governmental support that allowed them to create a condition where they could develop.
Could you tell us a little about your time in KIMFF and what is the future like for KIMFF?
KIMFF started 20 years ago when a group of journalists and like-minded people came together and started a festival about Nepali filmmaking and filmmaking in the Himalayan kingdom. This festival was started purely because of our passion for storytelling.
But having said that I think it’s time for KIMFF to transition and change and become a more sustainable and long-term enterprise. We have to be able to bring in the private sector and other government partners so we can continue this festival and make sure we are sustainable in the long run.
Since the team that established KIMFF were all media-related individuals, we were more focused on conducting the program and building the space for filmmakers. As a result, we lacked marketing expertise. So, I believe that is something we need to look at and bring in, if we are to continue for a long time as a more professional organization.
So, I think the important thing is that we have to look at KMIFF as a product because as a product, we capture and tell stories about the Himalayas which can be beneficial for tourism. For example, people travel all around the world for film festivals, so these international film festivals are already a product, and in a similar fashion, KIMFF can also be a similar product.
There is a potential for us to work with Kathmandu Metropolitan City Board, Film Development Board, Tourism Board, and various corporations and redesign KIMFF as a tourism product. What I believe is, when people look at KIMFF from the outside, people look at the festival as the largest international film festival in Nepal, primarily because we have been here for so long and we have been able to build international contacts.
But we haven’t been able to capitalize as much as we should, which is where the gap is. It is partly because every year we start from zero and raise funds. And while currently, the method is working, but I’m not going to be here forever and the people of my generation are not going to be here forever. So, we have a strategic plan on how we can create a comfortable support system and create a direction for the next generation and handover or transition to the next phase of the event.
So, what is the importance of documenting Nepali and Himalayan stories?
It’s really important. Speaking as a media person, documentation is very important. For example, observe the condition of the libraries in one of our main Universities; it is in a precarious state, so much so that finding any documents and references can be very difficult. Speaking from my experience of working at a media development organization and and as a journalist, I realized that looking for a document or any old data is very difficult because of the lack of documentation.
Because of this, through KIMFF and Nepal Panorama we have digitized more than a 100 film titles and archived them. So when you think about it, after 100 years when we will all go away, these stories about Nepal, the Himalayas, Kathmandu, the 90s and the 2000s can still be viewed and or read through these digital archives that we are trying to build.
All the films were collected through Nepal Panorama; the idea is that we have a strong database of stories that in the future we can watch and reflect on how our society was during this time. So, when you talk about KIMFF in that way, I think we are doing a really important job. Even if it’s not a high-tech process, at least we are trying to create a documentation archival section for people in the future who want to see stories from our current time and stories of our current culture.
Do we have the potential of being a destination for film tourism? Meaning filmmakers would come to Nepal to shoot their movies.
Definably, we can. For example, many of the commercials that have been produced in India that need to have shots of mountainous regions have all been shot in Nepal. I do believe that logistic-wise, it makes more sense for them to come to Nepal and do it. But having said that, the Nepal government’s policies should be suitable, because from what I understand, it is very complicated.
Not too long ago, after the release of a famous song that was shot in Tilicho Lake; tourism in the area increased exponentially. To say the least, people actually travel to remote locations after watching a film. Visuals are in fact sort of a promotion for the country or the region in question.
But in Nepal, the Ministry of Communication, The Nepal Tourism Board, and Nepal Film Development have to work together and help facilitate this process. It will play an important role to encourage people from foreign countries to want to come and film and explore in Nepal.