Nathan Ward, co-founder of Grit & Thistle Film Company, recently trekked through the Mustang Region of the Himalayas of Nepal to create an inspiring documentary about the unique educational system in the village of Lubrak.
The documentary tells the tale of a lone Bonpo Monk, Norbu Lama, who is working tirelessly to preserve traditional Himalayan culture through his teachings to the community’s children. Norbu Lama achieves this goal by teaching about 76 children Tibetan and Bon in the morning and then walks with them across the mountainside to the government school, where they study for six hours before hiking back to continue their studies with Norbu Lama for a few more hours before nighttime.
“By keeping the children in the mountains, it allows them to stay connected to their families and their traditional Himalayan culture,” Ward explained. “But conditions are harsh. The children have no warm water to bathe or wash their clothes in, there is sporadic electricity and no heat in the dorms despite harsh winter temperatures, and there is no kitchen and no school supplies. Once I visited, I knew I had to get involved to help raise funds, and the short film is the next step in this process.”
Over the course of one week, Ward shot the material for the short film operating as part of a two-person crew. To shoot cinematic-style, Ward relied on a Canon DLSR camera with Canon L-Series lenses. For interviews, he incorporated a Beachtek mixer and Rode and Sennheiser microphones into his setup. He relied on the Miller DS10 Tripod System and Solo Pod for his camera support.
Ward chose to use the Miller DS10 primarily to capture time-lapse shots and found its light weight and durability particularly beneficial during shooting. “The DS10 is just light enough to hike with over huge mountains,” Ward said. “It’s fast and easy to use with a skeleton crew. For instance, a nomad who had never seen a tripod before was able to help me set it up and level it in just a couple of minutes. The two-stage leg system is fast and solid, and you can set up the legs with just one hand. The head is simple, just two settings and simple dials to control pan and tilt.”
Alternatively, Ward found the Solo Pod to be useful when navigating through tight corners in classrooms. “The Solo Pod is fairly lightweight and perfect when I need to move fast and maneuver within limited space,” he said.
He hired a local to help him with translations and to assist with carrying the gear over the mountains on both horseback and by foot.
“At one point, we were crossing a high pass and I had the tripod on a horse,” said Ward. “The trail was rough, the horse was bouncy and the tripod was getting hammered. All I could think was ‘my tripod is going to be trashed,’ but I couldn’t catch up with the horse, so I had to just let it go. When I finally caught up, the tripod didn’t have a scratch and worked perfectly.”
The Grit & Thistle Film Company plans to release the short film, promoting it through live presentations across the United States and Europe to spread awareness. “The Himalayas have always been an area of special interest for me, and it was a real opportunity to be able to travel to Lubrak, show up as a total stranger and leave a week later with a rare look at a unique place on our planet,” said Ward. “Norbu Lama is working out there every day, in obscurity, to help educate mountain children and maintain Himalayan culture. He could certainly use some assistance and hopefully this film will help connect him with like-minded people.”