Sophie Dia Pegrum’s first love is film: horses come a close second. Together with her friend Jen Miller, she established Horsefly Films Rare Equine Trust, a production company based in California that strives to build a cinematic library dedicated to exploring diverse cultures, rare equine breeds and unique stories centered around the horse.
“Horses are mythical creatures with magical powers. The humankind’s history has been dependent on these animals. Over the last century, the use of horses has diminished, and with it, so much of our cultural relationship with horses has become lost,” explains the Director passionately.
‘Talking to the Air: The Horses of the Last Forbidden Kingdom’ is one such attempt to preserve a culture on the brink of extinction.
In 2013, Sophie was in Nepal to help shoot another documentary in Jumla at her friend Miranda’s request. While browsing through a bookstore in Thamel, she came across ‘Earth-Door-Sky-Door’, a 1999 book of architectural watercolor paintings, from the Himalayan kingdom of Mustang in northern Nepal by Robert Powell. The book was a revelation to the Bristol-born, who was mesmerized and fascinated to see paintings of an exotic land that in essence looked very Tibetan, while on paper claimed to be Nepali.
Sophie started delving into the history of Mustang which led to one crucial discovery, how intrinsic the role of horses have been for the Kingdom of Lo or present day Mustang. Then there was the Yartung Festival, a three day festival celebrated by the people of Lo, the highlight of which is a race where locals race their horses for their village’s honor. She needed no further persuasion. She assembled a crew, packed her gear and headed to Mustang to shoot her movie.
The film has been a labor of love. Shot over 10 days on location, the film took a further year of research, interviews, and post-production works. It premiered in KIMFF, a Kathmandu Film festival, to a sold out audience in 2014, and since then has screened internationally in over 14 film festivals to great acclaim.
“Going in I didn’t know what to expect, it is a tough place to live…But people there have an incredible amount of hospitality, kindness and generosity that feels very welcoming. For me, Mustang has been the greatest gifts of life.”
Sophie’s heartfelt wish is to hold a screening of the movie for Tibetan Refugees in Kathmandu and Pokhara, and the people of Mustang. For the documentary is not just a film about the festival, but an examination of Mustang’s cultural identity, historical evolution and political intrigue. It is a careful reconstruction of legends, punctuated by personal accounts of people who have lived through the time and space of the Forbidden Kingdom, elevated by painstakingly researched and unearthed archival footage, all lovingly encased in hope, for the people of Mustang and Tibet.
The next screening of ‘Talking to the Air: The Horses of the Last Forbidden Kingdom’ will be held in BAC Art Café, Pulchowk on March 9.