Ross School - Senior Project 2006-07

Student: Zack Lonberg

Mentor: Marie Maciak

Consultant: Molly O’Brian

Domain: Media

Product                            

Title: Nepali Connection

Description:

My Senior Project was a short-format documentary about a Nepali couple, Lakpa and Pasang, who belong to a Sherpa tribe which dwells in the mountains of the Himalayas. Present day has witnessed the deterioration of their ancient culture. Escaping violence and civil war in Nepal, Lakpa and Pasang were faced with conforming to a new culture as well as the cruel reality of the asylum application process which resulted in a six year separation from their children. My goal was to use documentary production techniques to express my concepts and vision and to complete production of proposed documentary video according to my proposal and production plan. During this process I have learned how to be a one man production crew.  I handled the responsibilities of producing, directing, videography and sound recording.  I also learned about the art of interviewing and shaping a story through real-life accounts.

Details:

         

Abstract

My senior project was a short-format documentary about a Nepali couple, Lakpa and Pasang, who belong to a Sherpa tribe that dwells in the mountains of the Himalayas. Present day has witnessed the deterioration of their ancient culture. Escaping violence and civil war in Nepal, Lakpa and Pasang were faced with conforming to a new culture as well as the cruel reality of the asylum process, which resulted in a six-year separation from their children.

I got the idea for this project after many discussions with my mentor, Ms. Maciak. I knew beforehand that I had wanted to create a movie, fiction or documentary, but I lacked complete direction as to what I wanted to focus on. Ms. Maciak helped me realize that the topic of my movie was right in my family. I had told her about my family and how they had employed Sherpas to work for them as live-in housekeepers. I knew little about their history and heritage, but I had always known that they had fled a terrible war while also leaving behind their two children at a boarding school in Nepal.

My set goals before I had started the project were to enhance my skills in documentary production, and to create an original idea that had  “universal significance”. The theme of the undocumented worker has a universal significance because people all over the world experience escaping from hardships only to be faced with a new set of hardships. The Sherpas were escaping a brutal civil war, waged between a ruthless dictator and the Maoist rebels opposed to his regime. Lakpa and Pasang were not affiliated with any side of the war, and were instead caught up between the brutal fighting forces. They witnessed their own villages bombed and friends killed, and knew that they had to leave for America. Pasang was a trekker who climbed the smaller peaks of Mount Everest while Lakpa worked at the house. My research included watching DVD’s and doing a lot of reading about Sherpas. My proposal was incredibly extensive, seeing that it was commonly used by professional documentary filmmakers. It was very helpful in the long run, because it enabled me to focus my ideas and create a precise thesis for my movie to be guided by.

My film had many conflicts in which the plot of the movie was centered around. These conflicts included the instability in Nepal, the rigorous asylum process that Pasang had to undergo (which was eventually dropped due to legal reasons), Lakpa and Pasang’s separation from their children, and the Sherpa’s adaptation to American lifestyle. My interviews were conducted in Pasang’s home, with some B-Roll taking place outside on the streets of Queens. My interviews went mostly well except for some hard times understanding each other, and technical problems led to a re-shoot of an entire interview. The hardest part of the documentary process came after the shooting was completed, which was the editing process. I ended up bringing the editing system back to my house and working day and night to try and construct a story out of the footage I took. As I was editing I realized I didn’t have enough images to work with, so I had to research and gather images from archival sources- these included slides provided by my dad who trekked the Himalayas before we ever employed Sherpa people, and still images from BBC which depicted the conflict in Nepal. However, finishing editing was one of the most rewarding feelings I had ever felt.

This project left me with a number of new understandings and concepts. It gave me a new understanding of Sherpa culture and Pasang’s family struggles. It also gave me new technical skills, including camera work, and being more proficient with the microphone and editing software. It also gave me insight into the art of interviewing while also maturing myself as a filmmaker. In the near future I plan to continue Pasang’s story when his kids hopefully come to the United States. I am planning on screening the film for his family, and I am currently submitting the film to festivals.

Works Consulted

Dark Days. Dir. Marc Singer. DVD. 2000.

Grey Gardens. Dir. Albert Maysles. DVD. 1976.

The World Book Atlas. Chicago: World Book, 2005.

Community Member (Details)

I sent an email to my outside member, who I was not able to contact due to her being 9 months pregnant and actually having a baby during the time I was working on my project. I had another outside community member planned, but I could not use them because my original community member was already registered.