EVEN When I Fall is a film about human trafficking. But this is no depressing documentary about man’s inhumanity. Far from it. It is uplifting, full of hope and leaves the viewer with a warm feeling. Sometimes, evil is overcome.
Directed by Sky Neal and Kate Mclarnon, it focuses on the plight of the 1,200 children who every year are routinely trafficked from Nepal to India and then end up performing in travelling circuses. They effectively become prisoners, endure beatings and on occasion are subject to sexual harassment (and more besides).
Illiterate, uneducated and old before they are young. Indeed, their childhood is rubbed out. Love is non-existent.
The film focuses on two such victims, the stunning Saraswoti and beautiful Sheetal. Saraswoti was trafficked into India at age 8, was married at age 14 and had three sons by the age of 17. Sheetal spent eight years in the circus as a child but has no idea how old she is.
Both are rescued from their circuses and brought back to Nepal where they are put in hostels. It is a difficult readjustment with Saraswoti at one point stating she was happier in the circus. Both visit their mothers. Explanations about how – and why – they were trafficked are not convincing but poverty and money are key factors (Sheetal’s sister was taken at the same time as her and has yet to be found). There is little love between mothers and daughters.
Thrillingly, we see Saraswoti and Sheetal emerge from their shells – like butterflies from a shiny chrysalis. They become involved in the formation of Circus Kathmandu, Nepal’s only circus and they are suddenly empowered. The circus skills they learnt as children are used in a positive way and they are received with glee by those towns and villages they visit – even though some Nepalese people believe all circus performers are prostitutes. The performers are liberated – it is as if shackles have been removed.
They go on international tour, visiting Dubai and then the Glastonbury Festival where they receive a standing ovation. Both Sheetal, travelling up and down the silks as if she does not have a care in the world, and Saraswoti (who does wonderful things with hoops) shine as brightly as Sirius does in the night sky.
Australia is the next port of call but when they get there an earthquake strikes Nepal (April 2015). The tour is abandoned and they return to a nation destroyed and grieving.
Yet Circus Kathmandu refuses to lie down. It refocuses, performing spontaneously among the rubble to bring a little cheer and sparkle back into the lives of people whose homes have been destroyed. They also go out to villages and through performance warn children and their mothers about the dangers of trafficking – the aftermath of the earthquake has prompted an upsurge.
Even When I Fall is a moving and intimate documentary, beautifully filmed by Ben Marshall. Shot over the course of six years, it is a labour of love. The views of the Himalayas are stunning but they are topped by the pictures of the performers that bookend the documentary. The film also highlights the abject poverty from which these children come from and go to. It is all supported by a haunting musical score – all violins, cellos and violas.
This is a delightful piece of work that has been sensitively put together – respectful to Saraswoti, Sheetal and the wonderful resourceful people of Nepal. A feather in the cap for Neal, Mclarnon and Satya Films (Neal’s production company).
Hope springs eternal. Kathmandu Circus is still going strong. More please.
This was review 23/30 in April’s Close-up Culture Monthly Film Challenge – Female Filmmakers.