The following documentary film reviews have been received at Pacific Affairs and will be published in the print edition within the next 12-18 months. Please note that minor textual changes may occur before final publication in our print and official online edition (hosted at IngentaConnect).
Last updated 7 February 2018
Pacific Affairs accepts documentary films for review from distributors and producers/directors that have been released in the previous two years only. Our focus in on current political, economic, and social issues affecting Asia and the Pacific Region. We do not review films on art, theatre, or music. Please send review copies to the following address marked “For Review Only – No Commercial Value”. While we will make every reasonable effort to review all documentary films within our scope that are sent to us, we reserve the right not to review a film.
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DRAWING THE TIGER. Directed and produced by Amy Benson, Scott Squire, and Ramyata Limbu. New York: Women Make Movies, 2015. 1 DVD (96 min). US$395.00, universities, colleges and institutions; US$89.00, K-12, public libraries and select groups. In Nepali with English subtitles.
“If the girl child does not study, we will marry them off. That’s how it is…I have endured a lot. I don’t want my children to have the same fate.”
– Shanta’s Ama (mother)
“If I keep studying, my aim is to be a doctor. I believe I will be able to achieve something and prove myself to the world.”
– Shanta (age 15)
Landlocked between India and Tibet and known for its Himalayan mountain range, Nepal is one of the poorest nations in the world, ranking 144th of 188 countries in human development standards (UNDP Human Development Report 2016). For 2015 estimates, the life expectancy at birth was 70.7; infant mortality rate was 28.9 per 1,000 births; and the maternal mortality rate was 258 deaths per 100,000 live births (CIA World Factbook 2017). In terms of education, Nepal’s adult literacy rate was estimated in 2015 to be 63.9% of the total population, with 76.4% of men and boys considered to be literate, as opposed to 53.1% of women and girls (CIA World Factbook 2017). The net primary school enrollment rate estimated for 2015 was 97.7% for boys and 96.1% for girls (World Bank 2017), but in reality, only a small percentage of adult women in Nepal have ever attended school.
Following a rural Nepali family over the course of seven years, Drawing the Tiger profiles a family’s hopes for a better life. The film opens with scenes of the family’s village homestead. This family faces persistent poverty, and like most in rural Nepal, relies on subsistence farming, but there is not enough to feed everyone. We soon learn that Shanta, the smart daughter infused with not only her own hopes and dreams but also those of her entire family, has been awarded a scholarship and has gone to Kathmandu to study.
The film pans back and forth between the village and the bustling capital city of Kathmandu. In a field near their home, Shanta’s mother talks about how hard her life has been and how she wishes for a better life for her children. She talks about how hard life is for girls in the village and how difficult it is for them to receive an education. The film later takes us to the village school, with dilapidated buildings and little to no instructional materials. The headmaster of the village school explains, “…well-connected people…send their children to private schools…The teachers and headmaster himself are from the village, so they are not rigorous…Even my own children are failing.” He goes on to say that everyone wishes they could be the “chosen ones,” like Shanta, who found sponsorship, left the village, and went on to study in Kathmandu.
Kumar, Shanta’s older brother and the eldest son in the family, lives and works in Kathmandu. He polishes Buddhist statues that he has heard sell for US$180 each, while he only makes US$40–50 per month. Kumar is discouraged about his own life but wants to support Shanta, who studies until midnight in their small shared room, with Kumar’s baby climbing on her as she pores over her homework. Despite his mother’s wishes, Kumar sees no reason to return to the village. He notes: “Village life is hard, but city life is lonely.” Village life and city life collide when tensions build between Shanta and Kumar’s wife, who is uneducated and uncertain of what she should do in the city, so far away from the village that she has known all of her life. Shanti also shares that she misses her parents. When Shanta does not return home, the village school headmaster tells us that “the whole village cried. The whole village cried.”
Around the world, government agencies, local non-government organizations, researchers, and international organizations concentrate efforts on increasing the enrollment of girls in schools. On social media, charities call for donations to send girls in far-away, poor countries to school. In the last three decades, United Nations conferences include a global development goal focused on the “girl child.” Countries in the Global South, usually working with well-funded international organizations (INGOs), have attempted to promote girls’ access to formal education systems. In Nepal, researchers, funding agencies, and various governmental offices have noted the substantially low enrollment of girls in its schools, and donor and bilateral agencies have spent millions of dollars on education initiatives aimed at girls. This funding has been supported by a substantial body of literature that promotes educating girls and women for social and economic benefits. Yet these initiatives and analyses, while insightful and well intended, only tell part of the story.
Drawing the Tiger helps us understand that gaining access to schools is simply the first step. Students like Shanta also need social and emotional support in order to fully participate and excel in school. The film’s true strength comes through the telling of this one family’s story, giving us an up-close glimpse into the human tragedy of persistent poverty and the painful toll that poverty can take in the lives of families and communities. Initiatives and programs hoping to redress poverty through education must move beyond enrollment numbers and participation charts. We must imagine and support the whole child and her particular needs. We need to examine poverty and gender in relation to educational achievement and in the contexts in which educational inequalities exist. As the film’s director Amy Benson noted in an interview with The Globe and the Mail, when we better understand “how complex poverty is, we can do global development better.”
Jennifer Rothchild, University of Minnesota, Morris, USA