A typical novice documentarian might start with a local issue for their first big film, but for Augusta Rose and Mary Frances White, it wasn’t enough. It was a story in eastern Nepal on the edges of Mount Everest that caught their eye.
Rose and White, graduates of Fitchburg State University in 2012, spent the majority of March out of the country and filming their debut documentary, Embracing Nepal, based around Dr. Adiel Tel-Oren’s efforts to further education for Nepali children.
Rose, a self-taught photographer and videographer, was eager to embark on the journey.
“It was my first time out of the US,” she said. “It was fascinating to go straight from here to an underdeveloped country.”
Rose and White met Tel-Oren, founder of the non-profit group, Ecopolitan and the Eco-Health Community, while filming an unfinished documentary. Tel-Oren, a holistic doctor, invited them then to come to Nepal and film his work assisting the lowest social caste in Nepalese culture, called “untouchables”. His social outreach program, “Touching the Untouchables,” builds schools and educates children in this impoverished area.
“We really want to express through our film that [the people] deserve education,” Rose said. “The economy isn’t doing so well, and a way to uplift it is to educate people so as to see more structure in the government.”
Tel-Oren’s program constructs the Everest Learning Academy, a name for a system of schools devoted to educating the untouchables and the poor in Nepal. Curriculum includes general education and hygiene processes, available to people of all ages.
The documentary would follow Tel-Oren and 8 “trekkers” through a Mt. Everest ecotrek, and the Nepalese children they encountered, as well as documenting what the ELA has accomplished.
Both Rose and White are passionate about the mission Embracing Nepal is undertaking, in their words, “a mutual exchange of knowledge and experience.” Untouchable children in Nepal are often allowed to roam unaccounted for, and are often subject to kidnapping and danger. Child traffickers will sell children into illegal orphanages, or trick families into sending their children to a boarding school only to have them sold into slavery.
“What these schools do is it gives them incentive to keep coming back and it allows for a way to keep track of them,” Rose said. “And generally, they want to learn. They’re very eager and curious.”
Despite this being their first released documentary, neither of the filmmakers are seeking compensation. In fact, they are technically doing all of the work for free.
“We are both volunteering,” Rose said. “It would technically be owned by [Ecopolitan]. It’s worth the exchange, even though it’s a lot of work for free…it’s such a worthy cause, to be able to make something that will benefit these children.”
In response to the costs of travel and movie-making, Rose and White began a Kickstarter in February that will run until April 16. Their goal is $2,000, in order to buy editing software, as well as to reimburse loans made to film the documentary.
“It’s a commitment,” Rose said. “but it’s worth it. We both saw it as the opportunity of a lifetime, so we said yes.”
Embracing Nepal is currently being edited, and won’t expect a release for at least six months. While White handles the editing, Rose will continue to fundraise in hopes of earning back funds. The two are confident in their efforts to raise both money and awareness for the cause.