When filmmaker Thomas Morgan first heard Pushpa Basnet's story, he didn't believe it. That's because Basnet's grassroots aid organization houses and educates children in Nepal who would otherwise be stuck in prison with their parents while they served their sentence. He thought he must've misheard her. He thought, surely, children in Nepal aren't left in prison to pay for their parents' crimes.
But he didn't misunderstand Basnet -- she legally adopts hundreds of children in order to free them from jail until their parents can come back for them. For this work, Basnet won the CNN Hero award, along with $300,000, which has gone entirely into funding a permanent boarding home for her children. Morgan and producer Angela Bernard Thomas talked about the difficulty of making a short documentary in a communist country and the real reason they wanted to tell Basnet's story.
At the time Morgan first heard of Basnet's boarding house, called the ECDC, he was working on another documentary on homelessness called Storied Streets. Morgan Spurlock and Susan Sarandon, who were executive producers on that project, urged him to turn Basnet's story into a film and a month and a half later he was in a third world country for the first time. He said he was surprised by how the people in the country had so little but seemed so content.
"For the most part, everyone that I met was completely happy," he says "Here we are with all of our stuff, we just need more stuff, and these people are completely content."
Morgan took a very minimalist approach to shooting the film due to Nepal's communist regulation. He said the country would have forced him to have a chaperone on all shoots and to turn in the raw footage, which then would be edited and sent back to him. Rather than allowing his work's integrity to be compromised, Morgan and his crew shot the entire film on Cannon 5D cameras, which look like still cameras but can shoot video as well.
Once back in America, lacing all of the different stories of many of the housed children and Basnet herself was a challenge, especially since Waiting for Mamu is a 40-minute documentary short. However, while Morgan jokingly says the best part of being a "doc short" is sweeping the festival awards in this category, he thinks the short length of the film actually makes viewers want more of the story, which in turn makes them figure out how to help Basnet. Morgan says this is what is really most important about his project.
"Everything else is trivial if we can't help her get this house built," he says.
So far the project still needs to raise about $300,000 to fully fund Basnet's boarding house, which will be a 4000-square-foot home with separate dorms for boys and girls. While one would assume that building in Nepal would be cheaper, everything from the bricks to the doorframes must be made by hand, causing more time and money to be poured into the project. However, Basnet's dedication and meticulous use of resources, combined with her "willingness to give it all up," sets her organization apart from others.
"They really use and appreciate every donation and resource given to them," Morgan says. "It's completely different than anything I've ever experienced."
Producer Thomas says she hopes people contribute to Basnet's cause but also follow her example of self-sacrifice and generosity.
"The way that Pushpa answered the calling is incredible," she says. "Pushpa's spirit is contagious and we hope people will see that kindness. . . and be inspired to help each other and to share acts of kindness."
Both Morgan and Thomas say that working on the film and spending time with Basnet have changed their lives forever. They make sure to devote time after every screening for a fundraiser for Basnet's home, using the film as a vehicle to draw awareness and potential donations. There will be a fundraiser for the ECDC, which has served over 200 children since it opened, after its screening at the Sedona International Film Festival where Pushpa Basnet, Thomas Morgan, Angela Bernard Thomas, and Susan Sarandon will all be appearing.
Waiting for Mamu screens at the festival at 5 p.m. on Friday, February 28, and 9 a.m. on Sunday, March 2.
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