Interview with Derkel Benson (Director of Ashmina)

Hi Dekel, thanks for agreeing to this interview. What drew you to filmmaking in the first place?

I think it’s pretty much the same for everybody. You start watching films in a young age and think “I could do that!” My brother and I were very imaginative young kids and started playing around with a video camera at a very young age. He too ended up in film, a producer, but he started more than 15 years ago and I only recently, 3 years ago, getting back to my old dream after doing a bunch of other things.

Where did the idea for the film come from?

I’m a paraglider pilot and about 5-6 years ago when I made my first solo flights in Nepal, I encountered these children who would pack your paragliders for small change. Even that I wasn’t a filmmaker back then I always collected good stories because I knew that eventually I’ll make at least a few short films, if not more. So eventually a couple of years later when I was finally ready to go and shoot something, I wrote the script in a couple of hours and within days was on a plane to Nepal.

How would you describe the plot of Ashmina?

The film tells the story of a 13 years old girl who lives in a small town which is nestled between a beautiful lake and the Himalayas, a town which is also very well known for paragliding. It is a traditional town but also a busy tourist destination where the locals are affected by the huge amounts of tourists who visit it daily. Ashmina is forced to skip school so she could help her family make ends meet by working at the landing field, packing the parachutes of foreign pilots in return of small change. There are a number of themes that are explored in the film – gender roles, the effects of tourism on traditional societies, child labour, and more.

How important was it to ensure that the film was as authentic as possible?

That was the number one goal. People confuse the film for being a documentary, so I guess we did a good job at it.

Why do you think there aren’t more films set in or about Nepal?

Nepal is very much a developing country. There is very little infrastructure for filmmaking if you compare it to that of other countries and even somewhere like India which is just across the border. It makes things difficult of course, it wasn’t easy. But it was also some of the best time of my life as it was a very rewarding challenge and I’m extremely happy with how the film came out.

What was the casting process for the film like?

Most of the cast are not actors. All the foreign people are backpackers who we met in the streets of Pokhara, who we begged to help with the film. We met Dikshya, who plays Ashmina, at a local school. As soon as I started working with her I knew that she was perfect for the role. She is the coolest girl ever, at just 13 she did an incredible job.

What do you hope audiences will take away from this film?

As mentioned there are a number of themes which the film touches on, but one of the main ones is the effect that tourism has on traditional societies, but anywhere else really. I was recently told that in the Island of Santorini in Greece, the local workers need to live in tents during the summer months because the cost of hosing is so high. People come with their money and absolutely destroy places and effect the local population in ways that they can’t imagine. So you rent out an Airbnb somewhere and without realizing it, you are responsible for local people never being able to afford a house of their own. In the film, the foreign pilot tips Ashmina too much money and sets off drama within her family.

What has the reception to the film been like?

We’ve been very lucky to have the film screen in many festivals and to also win some prizes and awards. Ashmina recently became Oscar Qualified by winning Best Short Film at the 59th Krakow Film Festival, which we are very proud of.

How does this film compare to other films you’ve worked on?

Ashmina was my 2nd film and a few months ago I finished my 3rd, which screened in Cannes as part of the official competition. Each film that I made was shot in a different country so each presented different challenges. It’s been a great experience and I learn something new with every project.

What future projects have you got planned?

I’m currently working on Adva, my first feature film, which will be set in Israel. It follows a story of a girl who goes to a date which goes wrong, and is an allegorical piece exploring the consequences of living in a country plagued by political conflict. It’s going to be so much more challenging than making a short, so I’m very much looking forward to it. 

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