A criticism often levelled at documentary filmmakers is that they exploit their subject. Go in and tell another’s story, leave and then take all the glory. Even when this isn’t the case, they’re sometimes badged with the label ‘white saviour’: A white person who helps a non-white person in order to benefit themselves. In I Am Belmaya, Sue Carpenter skilfully avoids these pitfalls by allowing her subject, and co-director, Belmaya Nepali to take centre stage.
Fourteen years ago, their paths crossed when Sue was a compiling a book of photography. Born in a rural village in Nepal, orphaned at nine, Belmaya moved to a girl’s house where she discovered the medium at the age of fourteen. Her life subsequently went downhill, trapped in an abusive relationship and treated like a drudge. She never gives up on her aspirations to document the struggles faced by women. Her journey is captured in I Am Belmaya.
Filmed over a fourteen-year period, not only does I Am Belmaya chart the struggles of a teenager to realise her dreams, it also gives her voice centre stage. It remarkable, despite having no formal education, that Belmaya has gone on to make her own documentary, given all the obstacles put in her path. She continues to champion education for young girls and her sheer strength of mind is inspirational. I Am Belmaya is a perfect stage for hopefully the next step in her career.
I Am Belmaya is released in UK cinemas and on demand at Curzon Home Cinema and BFI Player from 15 October.