“Return To Nepal” is an independent web-based documentary that aims to highlight how important the tourism industry is after the 2015 earthquakes and help encourage people to go and visit. Each documentary is designed to be short, approximately 5 minutes, so that they are appealing to a social media audience. They do not cover everything, nor should they. The key messages are spoken from the hearts of locals telling viewers that even after such tragic events, they are indeed ready for tourists and need them to help rebuild their country.
Doc Mckerr, an ex-British Army Officer and also Britain’s goodwill ambassador to Nepal and Oliver Willkins, an Emmy award winning film director, are the major people behind the camera who made Return To Nepal possible. On 22 March 2016, the team released the first short film, “Rise of the Artisans” on YouTube. It is a commendable 6 minute short film depicting how Nepal’s artisans have never lost their ancient skills and are now rebuilding sites across the country and contributing to Nepal’s future. This in itself is a tourist attraction.
A quick conversation with Doc!
Could you please give us your short introduction?
I am an ex-Gurkha Engineer Officer and spent seven years in the British Army. In 2009-10, I served in Nepal with the Gurkha Welfare Scheme building schools across the country for the charity. On leaving the army in 2013 I went back to walk solo across the Great Himalaya Trail. After 64 days and over 1000 miles, I had completed it. Post-earthquake I was selected as one of 17 Goodwill Ambassadors to help promote tourism.
How long have you been working on Return To Nepal?
I started working on the project as soon as I was informed that I had been selected as a Goodwill Ambassador at the end of June 2015.
What motivated you to do it in the first place?
After being selected as an ambassador I was overwhelmed and immensely proud. I wanted to do more than just raise money. I wanted to look further forward and do something that would support the country in providing for itself by doing what they do best; tourism.
Could you please give us a brief summary of Return To Nepal? What will it be like? How do you think it will change the perception of people towards Nepal?
We wanted to show that although the earthquake was a terrible event for thousands of people in a number of districts, one of the biggest impacts to the country was the huge impact on the tourism industry, which was down by over 70% six months later. However, only 11 out of 75 districts were actually directly affected. The idea was to make short films that showed three key things; the impact of the earthquake, how people had rebuild their lives six months later and finally, what the future holds. The thread throughout each film is tourism.
Each film focuses on a different part of Nepal and uses locals to tell their story. We filmed in Kathmandu, (specifically around Swayambunath and,Patan), Nuwakot and the Everest region.
How was your overall experience while shooting in different places in Nepal?
It was fantastic. Half way through the planning for the project the fuel crisis started. This then became a major concern as I wasn’t sure whether we would still be able to achieve what we were setting out to do. The news reports were often very misleading which made making a decision very difficult.
In the end, we decided to go anyway and see what we could do. I knew it would take several months to get the films ready so it was now or never.When I arrived I was very surprised. Certainly the streets were quieter than normal, but life continued and we could still go where we needed to and do everything we had planned to.
How did you manage on doing that?
We just needed to be patient. It was very obvious that there were far fewer tourists than usual. This should have been the busiest time of the year, however, there weren’t many around. We knew that we had made the right decision. Apart from the focus on fuel, the key messages still needed to be told. Nepal was open for business and tourism is the best way for people to help rebuild the economy.
What was the most memorable event while shooting Return To Nepal?
It was great to finally meet the son of a friend of mine who was killed in the earthquake on the Tashi Labsta pass. He lives in a village called Thamel in the Everest Region which is about 3-4 days walk from Lukla, the nearest airport.
Is he a part of your documentary as well?
He is the main character in the second film. This is about the importance of strong communities and cultures helping people pull through such terrible disasters and become even stronger.
So basically, there are 3 short films?
At the moment, yes. We might make another one. I just need to see how much money I have left!
The third film is about rebuilding the centre of a village called Nuwakot in the same traditional designs but using new modern and safe earthquake resistant techniques. The importance of their heritage is well known by the community and rebuilding this is essential for the future of the village.
Since you have already released the first part of the documentary, when are you planning to release the other two?
Hopefully by 25 April.
What did you learn from this experience? And when are you planning to come back again?
I learnt that Nepali people are still very humble, strong willed and kind hearted. Although shocked by what has happened, they are ready to move forward and make the future count for everyone. They are excited to start seeing tourism return to normal. It is not just about the money they bring. It is also a way of life.
I am already planning my next expedition to the far north-west of Nepal for later this year, so long as I can get the time off work!
What kind of response has Rise of Artisans received so far?
Well, it has received pretty positive responses so far. People love the fact that the documentary has been filmed beautifully and deals with a positive story told by locals.
Lastly, what would you like to suggest to people who are planning a trip to Nepal?
All I would say is that people should go and experience as much as they can across Nepal when they visit. There is so much to see and do, all of which is vastly different. The key is to just go to Nepal and do it soon!
To know more about Return to Nepal, visit www.returntonepal.com.