Back from Kathmandu

by Katharine Reece MFA ’12

Most feature film shoots do not begin with the crew lugging thousands of dollars worth of camera equipment along the side of the road in Nepal because the highway from the airport has been shut down by a political strike.

But that's how Red Monsoon started, with Doug MacHugh (theatre) and Brian Emery '07 sharing the role of honorary Sherpa. They had traveled to Nepal in May 2012 as part of a crew of 10 SLC alumni and faculty to spend three weeks filming a movie written by Eelum Dixit '09. Telling the story of two women who get involved with the same man, the film is set within the complex caste system of Nepal, where the classic love triangle becomes a story of female empowerment and the hard choices required to create change.

The group's journey began in early 2012, when Dixit, who had been working in the burgeoning theatre and film scene in Nepal, shared the script with MacHugh, his don and teacher while at Sarah Lawrence. MacHugh was impressed, and shared it with fellow theatre faculty member Ruth Moe and Brian Emery, technical director of filmmaking and media arts, who shared it with Mario Paniagua '09, Emery's former classmate and go-to film freelancer. The proverbial ball started rolling—with plenty of behind-the-scenes pushing from MacHugh and Moe—and in May 2012, the SLC crew, each having paid his or her own way, gathered in Nepal to shoot the film.

But getting the cameras to the Dixit home was just the first in a series of challenges. Not only was most transportation prohibited, but intermittent power outages (unrelated to the strike) often rendered the equipment useless. The group managed to tackle the obstacles with the creative improvisation and verve for which SLC alumni are known. Says Emery, "We would finish shooting at one in the morning and then a couple of us would have to meet after that: ‘Okay, what are we doing tomorrow?' And it was like, ‘Well, this actor we lost, and this actor has to walk two hours to get here because he can't drive because of the strike, so we can't start until 10 a.m. …'"

They shot the entire film in 21 days on a budget of around $50,000—"a pittance compared to Hollywood films," says MacHugh, who acquired the nickname Baba ("Daddy") Doug. Fifteen Nepali natives acted in and helped produce the film, including Dixit's fiancée, who plays one of the main characters.

Dixit and Paniagua edited the film over the course of six weeks in New York, making the final tweaks in MacHugh's Connecticut living room. The film will debut on the festival circuit this fall.