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|June 13, 2001||
Eric Valli's Himalayan adventure
The Dolpo region of the Himalayas is one of the world's most inaccessible places.
"It is totally untouched, no electricity, no running water," reveals photographer and author Eric Valli.
He lived in this part of Nepal for 20 years. His first film, Himalaya, which is set there, was nominated for the 2000 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. It also won two Cesars (French Oscars) -- for Best Cinematography and Best Music. The film is scheduled to open on June 22 at theatres in New York and New Jersey.
Shot over a period of nine months by a crew of 80 people, the film was made with a cast of mostly non-professionals. "None of them are actors," Valli says. "Not only had they never seen a movie camera in their lives, they had never seen a movie in their lives."
Valli, 48, is the father of three girls. His family accompanies him on his travels. A cabinet-maker by trade, Valli was one of the first foreigners to arrive in the Dolpo in 1980. At the time, it was a place untouched by modern civilisation.
"It was like Tibet before the Chinese invasion," he says. "I fell in love with it." And, he says, as "a writer and photographer I wanted to make a testimony of this incredible place. Yes, you can call it a love story. How many such powerful places are left in the world?"
The story of Himalaya is simple and as clear as the landscape it celebrates. In a tiny village nestled 15,000 feet high in Nepal, a Tibetan chieftain has lost his eldest son. He blames his son's friend, Karma, and refuses to let him lead the annual yak caravan which journeys for weeks across the mountains to exchange salt for grain. Two caravans take off across the mountains, in blinding snowstorms. The journey becomes a duel between man and Nature.
At one point in the film, a village elder's advice is to take the more difficult path when faced with a choice between two options. Valli completely agrees with that sentiment. "I like difficulty," he says. "What is the meaning of life if you stay lazy? We have one life. Let's give it our best and squeeze in everything we can."
The story in Himalaya is based on the real life of the characters who act in it. The chief, Tinle, is the same in life as he is on screen. "His real life is like the life of a character in a Jack London novel," says Valli.
Without Hollywood backing, and with its unusual story line and setting, the film took a long time to get made. "Everything in the movie is authentic," says Valli. "No make-up or costumes. The faces are really like that, the clothes are their own."
In fact the film is as much a document as it is a feature film. Dubbed in Nepalese and retitled Caravan, it has also been an unexpected success in Nepal.
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