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Baato 12A

Part of South Asian Heritage Month: Stories to Tell
Kate Stryker and Lucas Millard, USA, 2020, 82m.

Our screening on Wednesday 2 August will be followed by a satellite Q&A with co-director Lucas Millard.

Every winter Mikma and her family travel by foot from their village deep in the Himalayas of Nepal to sell local medicinal plants in urban markets. This year, construction of a new highway to China has begun in their roadless valley, and things are never going to be the same.

The documentary film Baato (n. [Nepali] 1. path, trail; 2. way; 3. road) is a beautifully crafted, clear-eyed chronicle of the construction of a trans-national highway in Nepal, and of the many different dimensions that come into play with an infrastructural project of this scale, both macro (economic and political forces) and micro (the backbreaking and dangerous labour involved in construction, the impact on those who live along the road’s route, and so on). In particular, directors Kate Stryker and Lucas Millard reveal the impact of the project on a particular family living in a heretofore isolated community in the Himalaya of northeastern Nepal.

Collecting medicinal herbs in their remote mountain valley, Mikma and her family must make an annual 300-kilometer migration, partly on foot and partly by ramshackle vehicle, to urban markets in the lowlands. The road project promises to radically change their lives, by transforming this journey into a far less perilous and arduous one, but also by rendering their community far less isolated, both physically and culturally (for better and for worse).

Baato is at once a sensitive portrait of a family that has thus far existed largely apart from the trappings of modernity, a fascinating chronicle of the epic journey they embark on each year, and a penetrating depiction of the culture and politics of Nepal.

The Garden Cinema View:

Had enough of dolls and bombs? Baato offers a distinct rhythm and pacing as two journeys, one of trade and one of construction cross paths through the Himalayas. A fragile and agrarian existence is pitted against slowly encroaching industrialisation here, and there is a palpable sense that this way of life will soon be incompatible with modernity. Aided by some beautiful mountainside cinematography and Errant Space’s ambient score, this is a documentary to soothe, concern, and inform.  

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