Sky Neal (she/her), Co-Director
Sky has worked since 2006 as a documentary filmmaker and visual ethnographer and has a Masters in Visual Anthropology. She also has a rich background in the circus and performing arts industry, and worked professionally as an aerialist in contemporary circus. Founder and director of Satya films, Sky strives to tell human stories in rich and creatively bold ways and has produced a diverse range of films from long and short form documentaries to exhibition films and video art for live performance. She is strongly motivated by human rights and has made several films that relate to human trafficking and child labour issues, including having produced and directed films for Al Jazeera English and the BBC. Sky has worked extensively with vulnerable and at risk youth through documentary and social circus creative education programmes.
Dara McLarnon (they/them), Co-Director
Dara has worked since 2006 as an ethnographer and documentary filmmaker and holds a masters with distinction in Visual Anthropology. Dara’s work has been broadcast in the UK, has been shortlisted for an IMTV Music Video Award and they have had short films shown in galleries and festivals worldwide. They collaborate with anthropologists, journalists, artists, museums and charities, using film in innovative ways to express, investigate and create. As a director of Postcode Films, Dara has worked with leading research and arts organisations in the UK, specialising in social policy innovation. They have taught at University of East Anglia, spoken at Queen’s University Belfast and they hold a degree in Philosophy and academic awards from Trinity College Dublin.
Elhum Shakerifar (she/her), Producer
Elhum is a BAFTA nominated producer and recent recipient of the BFI Vision Award, producing and distributing documentaries through her company Hakawati with the core ethos that a good story is all in the telling. Recent credits include winner of the BIFA for Best Documentary winning ALMOST HEAVEN (Carol Salter) and Arts Council funded ISLAND (Steven Eastwood). In 2015, BAFTA nominated production A SYRIAN LOVE STORY (Sean McAllister) won a Cinema for Peace Justice Award, screened in UK and European parliaments and in over 70 countries. It was self-distributed in the UK with such high visibility that it was named the third Best Film of 2015 by The Guardian and was nominated for Film Campaign of the year at the Screen Awards in 2016. Her work has been broadcast internationally and screened at festivals including Berlinale, IDFA and Rotterdam. Elhum is a programme advisor for London Film Festival for films from MENA and Iran, and Film Curator for Shubbak, festival of contemporary Arab culture. In 2017, she was nominated for the Arab British Centre’s Award for Culture and was the 2017 Winner of the Women in Film and TV BBC News and Factual Award.
Our aim was to portray a seriously complex reality through the eyes and words of some of it’s witnesses.
Working with the performers of Circus Kathmandu over a six year period, some from the moment of rescue and through the inception of the circus company, we chose to follow a process of filmmaking which had collaborative storytelling at its heart.
Early on we came across the challenge of how unfamiliar documentary filmmaking was to them, and how difficult it was for the young people to articulate their feelings to us, even though the desire to share was there. It was important for us to find a method they could relate to – that included them. As they discovered that performance could be their medium for both personal and political change, the film inevitably followed suit. Together, we looked at ways we could harness their skill and expression to help us to tell their story. The switch between the fantastic and the mundanity of daily life is one they make quite naturally as circus performers, and one we’ve tried to capture in the film.
As we got to know Saraswati and Sheetal, the two main protagonists, we decided together that we didn’t want to create a documentary that focused only on the problems faced by poverty stricken Nepalis or the graphic horrors of victimhood, but instead to tell a story of resilience and transformation. We wanted to focus on a lesser told story – the experience of life after rescue. There is the collateral damage visible within families and communities – the stigma, the loss of childhood and education – but also the insidiousness of trafficking in the midst of so many problems and the way it hides itself in plain sight – offering safety, salvation and promise to desperate parents. We wanted to be able to represent the pain and guilt we saw carried by a mother who sent her daughter away with an aunt – only hearing her harrowing story 10 years later.
But as well as looking harder at the entrenched reality of trafficking and its repercussions, beyond anything else we see this film as a universal story of survival and change, of renewal and ownership. Saraswoti and Sheetal are inspiring, funny, brave and full of strength. It is thanks to their trust and patience that this is a film that portrays the impact of modern slavery on the lives of a small handful of individuals, in the microcosms of family and friendship.
The story of trafficking is complex and the road to tackling it is the same. The film we’ve made is not black and white but it gives us a glimpse into the changing lives of some amazing young men and women, whose skill and resilience we found incredible to witness. Instead of great declarations we have awkward silences, undercurrents of memory and distress, the slow building of trust and resolve. And the occasional gravity-defying backflip.
Sky Neal and Dara McLarnon