Zara Balfour, Marcus Stephenson (director)
1h 37mins (length)
15 March 2019 (released)
Children of the Snow Land is a documentary by Zara Balfour and Marcus Stephenson. It follows teenagers of a Nepalese boarding school specifically for children from the remote mountain villages of Nepal, of which there are many, in the hopes that they can have an education and transcend the limitations of village life.
The film follows three teenagers, Nima, Jeewan and Tsering Deki, all of whom haven't seen their families in over ten years. The three different subjects we follow helps add a sense of structure and variation to the film as their unique experiences are contrasted and explored. They are given various equipment and training to document the difficult journey they have to undertake. This vlog-like approach to the narrative was refreshingly wholesome, as when at the top of the world, with only themselves we are able to hear their musings on life. Nima had the hardest journey of the three, an arduous fifteen-day trek through the mountains in the hope of seeing his father, carrying a pair of boots the whole way as a gift for him. He at one point recites a poignant poem he wrote while deep on his long trek and it exemplifies the feelings of a lot of children who have lost a parent.
Right from the offset, village life is very different for the teens who have grown up around technology and infrastructure, now plunged into a world of self-sufficiency and survival. Their emotional growth was compelling, they each grew to understand their parents' motives and any resentment faded away into understanding and appreciation. The final words of the documentary told of the trajectory each of the three teens is taking with their futures, futures they would never have access to were it not for the courage of their parents.
The emotional journeys of the teens are tantamount, they all deal with feelings of abandonment, unable to understand their families motivations for sending them away. After leaving their homes and venturing out into the farthest reaches of the Himalayas, word reaches them of an earthquake hitting Kathmandu, where their school resides. The worries for their Snow Land family only adds to the anticipation of meeting their relatives and their ever-growing questions about their place in the world. The mothers are the unsung heroes of the film, their courage and strength really shining forth. Tsering Deki learns from her aunt that her mother was forced to look after her ill husband and full family, and rather than keeping her daughter in the village to help her with her duties she let her go with the promise of an auspicious future.
The documentary poses questions about what makes a family, is it the people you surround yourself with or is it those who's same blood flows through you. Children of the Snowland very much made me feel like it is a mix of both, one of the most endearing aspects of the film was the difficult decisions made by the parents in sending their children so far away in the hopes of giving them a better life. Education is so important to the parents that they will sacrifice their happiness for it, the mother of one of the teenagers even hiding her sadness when her daughter is about to leave to prevent her wanting to stay.
The vlogging angle added a heartfelt and honest portrait of village life, the lack of foreign explorers meant the noticeably shy village-folk could relax and let down their guards to reveal their humanity. Their simple lives are contemplated by the teens after some time living amongst their people and an appreciation is built for their ways of life. The teens have grown up in the technology-heavy world of the city and must take a pilgrimage-like journey back to their roots to learn about their culture and heritage, this is very important to the school and especially the students because it helps them stay in touch with who they really are.
Children of the Snowland was an inspiring look at how much education is taken for granted in the western world. The teenagers leave the school educated and carefree and return with a deep understanding of hardship and how much it can take to manifest a bright future. It was great seeing the teens learning about their families ways of life and skills that, when returning to Kathmandu, they were able to call upon to help ease the hardship wrought by the earthquake. The beauty of the himalayas is a perfect backdrop for the emotional growth of the teens, as they surmount the insurmountable.
The filmmakers have created a meditative, engaging and uniquely handled documentary that I strongly recommend seeking out.